Warnings: Tiny spoilers if you're behind on Season 7; mild language. Also, if Jack/Renee romance makes you nauseous, this is definitely not the fic for you.
Summary: “Normal people, after blowing open widespread government corruption, averting multiple terrorists attacks, saving the president, and narrowly escaping death several times over, like to have a cup of coffee and talk about it for five minutes.”
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters. If I did, Jack would skip saving the world and spend 24 hours making pancakes. Naked.
A/N: Thanks to Adrienne, Erin, Katie, and Jess for unfailingly helping me to suck less:)
He didn’t even notice it was raining until he heard her voice.
“Jack. It’s pouring. Do you-” She stopped, glancing past him at what he assumed was another departing FBI vehicle. “Can I drop you somewhere?”
“No. Thank you.” The rain falling into the reflecting pool created concentric circles that collided into one another in shifting round patterns. “I’m gonna stay here for awhile.”
“What? You’re already drenched. At least let me take you to your hotel.”
“I’m not ready to-” He sucked in a breath of damp air, the smell of exhaust mixing with the moisture. “No. I appreciate the offer. I’m fine.” Now that he was paying attention he could feel his shirt sticking to the skin on his back and shoulders, the water sliding off his hair onto his temples.
Renee crossed her arms, the day’s tension visible in the set of her jaw and the way she stood a little too straight. “Do you ever cooperate?”
He exhaled audibly, irritated. “I didn’t realize I was being uncooperative,” he muttered.
“Well you are.” An edge had crept into her tone, and Jack’s shoulders tightened. For all his ability to read people, he had to acknowledge that she was one of the least predictable people he’d ever met.
In another lifetime he probably would have found it a turn-on.
Now it was mostly a low-grade annoyance, like a tag in the collar of your shirt that you can’t get to stop chafing, no matter how often you rearrange it. He wanted to be able to turn her a few degrees sideways, so her visual field would shift and she’d stop poking around so damn close to all the buried grenades in his psyche.
“Agent Walker, go home and get some sleep. It’s over. We’re done here.”
She made a noise that could have been laughter but wasn’t. “Agent Walker.” She pressed her arms even more tightly against her body. “Why do you do that?”
“Do what?” he asked, exhaustion etching the shape of each syllable. He knew exactly what she was asking.
She took several steps forward, stopping a few feet in front of him. He expected the next words out of her mouth to be harsh, angry, accusing. But her voice was soft and pitched several notches lower when she said, “Is that really what you want? For me to just . . . walk away right now?” Her mascara made an inky smudge beneath her right eye.
Jack swallowed and almost opened his mouth, but said nothing. He could feel the water seeping into his socks. His feet were freezing.
Renee wiped her fingers over her forehead, pushing away raindrops that slid into her already dripping hair. “I don’t know how to-”
He found himself holding his breath, waiting for her to finish her sentence.
But she started in a different place. “Yesterday you were burying me alive, Jack. And now it’s, ‘Go home, Agent Walker?’” She shook her head. “That’s not okay with me. I can’t. . . do whatever it is that you do.”
He let that one drop. “I’m not going back to my hotel now, Renee.”
“Come to my place.”
When his eyes widened she exhaled loudly. “Shit. I’m not propositioning you.”
“I didn’t think-”
“Yes you did.”
The fact that he couldn’t decide whether she looked amused or offended threw him even further off balance. His jeans felt sodden and heavy as he stood there, so tired that he was probably beyond the point of being able to sleep, wondering again what the hell it was she wanted him to say.
“Jack.” Her eyes caught his and refused to let go. “Normal people, after blowing open widespread government corruption, averting multiple terrorists attacks, saving the president, and narrowly escaping death several times over, like to have a cup of coffee and talk about it for five minutes.”
Despite the weight of his clothes, the near paralyzing fatigue, he felt the edges of his mouth twitching upward. “Yeah?”
She pushed more water out of her hair, and Jack averted his eyes the second he caught himself tracing the outline of her ribcage through the soaking fabric of her shirt. She breathed too deeply and coughed on a drop of water she’d inhaled. When he looked back up she was still staring, her gaze so focused that he had to force himself not to look away.
“Do you want to be alone right now?”
He paused, weighing the risks. “No.” Shit.
Renee’s face relaxed. “I don’t either. So come home with me and have a bagel. You can sleep on my couch. And if you wake up and want to disappear, I’m sure I’ll be too out of it to notice.” She ran a hand down the arm of her jacket, releasing droplets of water from her fingers in a perfect arc.
They blurred in Jack’s vision, creating a transient rainbow.
He still hadn’t answered her.
She dropped her gaze. “Okay then,” she said, and all the softness had vanished from her voice. “We’ve officially reached the point where I’m humiliating myself, so I’m gonna go.”
His reflexes kicked in ahead of his synapses, his hand closing over her wrist before she’d taken half a step. “I’m sorry.” His voice was tired. Gravelly. “I’ve spent years-” He released her wrist when he realized how tightly he was gripping her. “Not talking. You get. . . used to it.”
He scanned her face, noticing for the first time how pale she was. An occasional smudge of mascara accented the livid purple circles under her eyes. His throat felt as if it might have rocks in it. Jagged, pointy ones. “I’d like a bagel. Thanks.”
After a beat, she said quietly, “My car’s across the street.”
She didn’t give him the keys this time.
They rode in silence, punctuated only by the rhythmic swish of the windshield wipers and the jarring intermittent doppler of horns racing by.
He was painfully thirsty, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask her to stop at a drive-through. He tried not to think about soda with ice.
When they’d been driving for maybe ten minutes, and Jack could feel himself moving into that floaty place where forming coherent thoughts begins to feel like attempting to row an aircraft carrier, Renee said abruptly, “Why didn’t you kill me?”
He blinked rapidly, ten or fifteen times, trying to clear the fog in his eyes and his head. “Kill you?”
“Emerson ordered you to. Your cover would have been safer if you had. You’ve told me and shown me in ten different ways today that as far as you’re concerned, the end always justifies the means. So why?”
Another horn blew by, the sound exploding from nothing into a blaring drone, then quickly fading back into silence. He didn’t look at her. “I don’t-” He stared at the smooth deep grey vinyl of the glove compartment. “It spite of what you think, I don’t kill unless it’s absolutely necessary. It wasn’t.”
She flicked the windshield wipers up a notch and ran a red light.
By the time Renee pushed the key into the deadbolt on her apartment door, her hands were shaking visibly. Jack felt a wash of desire to put his fingers over hers, but his were freezing too, and it was probably adrenaline and hunger rather than the cold anyway. They were so wet that water pooled on the hallway carpet before the lock finally turned and she shoved the door open.
She dropped the keys on a small oak table to the right of the door, and tossed her purse underneath it. “Give me your coat. I’ll hang them up in the bathroom.”
He shrugged out of it automatically and handed it to her, watching her push off her shoes before she walked down the hall and wondering when the hell he’d suddenly become so obedient. The fact that he had any nervous energy left seemed to defy the laws of nature, and yet he was jittery and unsettled, so he clenched and unclenched his fists while he waited for her to return. He stood very still, surveying her apartment.
He thought vaguely that at some point he should probably stop being surprised that she surprised him, but tracking that thought to its logical conclusion was far beyond his present capabilities. He concentrated on taking in his surroundings.
The slightest scent of cinnamon and vanilla, mixed with stale coffee. Hardwood floors, excepting the grey patterned stone in the kitchen. Walls decorated with pictures everywhere – a few standard landscape paintings, but primarily photographs. Blown up fields of wildflowers. A huge waterfall against an electric blue sky. The ocean at sunrise, waves caught so vividly that light reflected off the water droplets as they bounced off the rocks.
The wall closest to him, however, was devoted to people. It was hard to make out faces from his vantage point, but he could see that one of the larger pictures was of her graduation from the FBI Academy.
She was smiling.
Surrounded by people.
Even at that distance he could tell that her eyes looked twenty-five years younger in the picture than they had outside the door three minutes ago. Inside his head, the tremor in her voice on the phone when he’d told her Vossler was dead played over and over, like a CD with a tiny scratch.
He wondered what would happen if he quietly turned around, slipped out, and shut the door behind him. He didn’t move though. His shoes would probably squeak and she’d shoot him. The thought made him smile, the muscles in his face protesting the uncharacteristic expression.
“What’s funny?” She had changed into dark sweatpants and an oversized green sweatshirt that said Michigan State. Her feet were stuffed into fleece slippers and she had a huge navy blue towel draped over her arm, along with what appeared to be a pair of jeans and another sweatshirt.
“Nothing,” he replied, a little hoarse. “I was looking at your pictures.”
“You don’t have to stand by the door, Jack.”
“It’s fine.” She took a step closer and extended her arm, holding the clothing toward him. “I’m sure the fit isn’t perfect, but at least you won’t freeze.”
Jack took the clothes automatically. He knew he should open his mouth, say something, anything, but all he could think of was Renee’s face in the picture superimposed on her face in the hospital after Marika’s death. For him, the choices had all been made so long ago that they were carved into his neural pathways. Yet he was free at any time to stop taking her by the hand and yanking her down the same path.
“They’re not Larry’s.”
It was those three words that undid him.
He caught her eyes, lit up with the flash of mischief that still sparked there, defiantly, underneath the exhaustion, the uncertainty, the fear. He might have been out of the game for years, but he remembered the rules well enough to know what she was handing him with that seemingly innocuous statement. Then she looked at him – a fraction of a second longer than would be considered acceptable in casual interaction – and the last of his resistance fragmented.
He wasn’t going anywhere.
Half an hour later Jack sat at Renee’s kitchen table, cleaner and hopefully better smelling than he had been before the steaming shower, but feeling almost as uncomfortable in the oversized borrowed clothes as he did in his surroundings. Already on his third cup of coffee, he swallowed a large gulp, burning his tongue in the process. The shower, hot liquid, and dry clothes had warmed him to the point where he could feel his fingers again, but for some reason he still felt shaky, jittery, and unsettled, as if he were forgetting something of paramount importance. It reminded him of his first attempt at building a model airplane when he was a kid. He’d skipped one important step and had to backtrack almost to the beginning of the instructions and start all over.
He’d never made that mistake again – each subsequent time following the directions so methodically that every plane came out perfect. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a step-by-step instruction book for what to do when you were sipping coffee and eating a whole wheat bagel in Renee Walker’s apartment.
Down the hall he could hear the shower running, the water a lulling hum that probably would have relaxed him if he could have managed to govern his thoughts and stop imagining her in the shower. He shook his head and swallowed more coffee, burning his tongue on purpose this time, in order to help him snap out of it.
It mostly worked.
Jack closed his eyes, and after a few deep breaths felt the insane rush of the past twenty-four hours begin to dissipate. He thought about being in that holding cell in the White House, listening to Bill casually mention that Renee had gone missing. Despite his current discomfort, he liked it a lot better when he was sitting at her kitchen table, listening to the water rain down both inside and outside.
His heart was beating in that erratic way it did when he was running on fumes, and his mind refused to stop randomly leaping from one confused thought fragment to another. He concentrated on slowing everything down.
Startled, he opened his eyes. Renee stood beside him, wearing deep blue satin pajamas, her damp hair darker than usual, accentuating the exhaustion and strain that decorated her features.
“Why am I not surprised that you’ve taught yourself to sleep sitting up?” A tiny smile played at the edges of her mouth, and Jack’s stomach twisted and jerked.
She was too close.
Her voice was too soft.
She smelled too good.
He stood up – quickly – which turned out to be a bad idea. The air around him went slightly grey, and he closed his hand over the solid wood on the back of the chair. Renee instinctively reached out to steady him, and he felt the soft warmth of her hand even through the thick cotton fabric of his sweatshirt.
“I think I should go.” Did he? The list of things he was uncertain about was currently a minimum of five items too long.
“What the hell are you talking about?” She tightened her grip on his arm. “Bed or couch? You can choose, but you’re lying down right now.”
Naturally, the exhaustion he’d been successfully evading for more than a day chose that exact moment to catch up with him. “The couch is fine.”
“Go sit down.” She nodded her head in the direction of the living room. “I’ll grab you a pillow.” She padded back down the hallway. Jack noticed that her feet were bare. His heart wouldn’t stop doing that weird thing and it was beginning to piss him off. He walked deliberately over to the couch, flexing his hand open and closed to distract himself.
“Here.” Renee’s voice floated around the corner of the hallway before she appeared a moment later. She threw a comforter on one end of the couch and a large pillow on the other.
Jack blinked to focus and stared at the pillowcase, amused. “Are those sheep?”
“Shut up,” she retorted. “It was a gift.” She paused, looking at him quietly, her expression impenetrable. “Well.” Her voice squeaked a touch and she cleared her throat. “I’m exhausted. Just come down the hall if you need anything.” She waited a beat. When he didn’t respond, she glanced sideways once and shot him a final puzzled look before turning away.
“Thank you. I-” How had he become so inept at the basics of human interaction? “I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome.” She stepped toward him, only two small paces, but enough to put her smack in the middle of his discomfort zone. “In the interest of honesty, I think the invitation was more for my benefit than for yours.”
His hands were on her face before he understood that his body was planning to move. It was the strangest feeling, the disconnect between mental command and physical response. When his hands slipped gently down to her neck (he could feel her pulse against his palms) and he touched his mouth to the curve of her cheekbone, he could both hear and feel her sudden surprised intake of breath.
He should stop. What the hell was he doing? The languid floating sensation in his head made everything confused, wreaking havoc with his normally unflappable impulse control. He brushed his lips over hers, first lightly, the second time harder. Residual heat from the shower still lingered on her damp skin, and Jack had no recollection of the last time he’d done anything that felt as good as what he was doing right now.
As he touched his mouth to hers for a third time, he let his tongue move lightly over her lower lip, simultaneously using his hands to draw her body nearer to his. He hadn’t been this close to anyone in years, and the full-on sensory assault only intensified the lightheadedness he’d been experiencing since the moment he stood up from her table.
Still holding her, he realized that he was waiting.
Waiting for her body to stiffen and pull back. Waiting for a caustic comment about taking advantage of the situation. Waiting even for a shove or a slap, as he’d received both from her before, so he knew she had it in her. Years of experience, training, and the gift of pure instinct had rendered him nothing if not skilled at spinning out possible outcomes in any given scenario. He had to, and he had to be right.
He was wrong this time.
Rather than pulling away even fractionally, Renee slid her hands over the muscles of his shoulders until one of them cupped the back of his neck and the other slipped into his hair. Her body didn’t tighten at all, but relaxed into his, all softness and malleability, pressing against him in a way that made him grateful that he didn’t have to talk right now.
Her hands were gently drawing his face even closer to hers. His lips parted instinctively and he felt the jolt of her tongue moving over his, hesitantly at first. Within seconds, the tentativeness had vanished. Her mouth was hot and open against his, tasting of coffee and toothpaste and soap, scented with something he couldn’t presently identify but that he knew he associated exclusively with her.
Jack’s hands pushed under the hem of her pajama top, and he swallowed as he tried to process the satin sliding over the back of his hands and her skin against his palms, an impossibly soft contrast to his calloused fingers. He stroked over her shoulder blades and as he reached the nape of her neck, he couldn’t resist slipping one hand around front to trace a finger over her collarbone.
When his index finger hit the hollow of her throat, she said suddenly, her voice barely audible, “Jack. Breathe.”
It took a moment for his overloaded senses to process the fact that she was right. He’d taken a deep breath before touching her, and he was still holding it. His face went hot. He drew in a long breath of air and moved to pull back, but she shook her head, her hands firmly anchoring him in place, her body still flush with his in a way that made him all too aware of how intoxicating it would be to unbutton her pajamas and try this again without the impediment of the thin but infuriating fabric.
“I’m sorry.” He cleared his throat, looking at the floor.
“Goddammit. Will you stop being an idiot for ten seconds?” Her fingers drew soft circles at the base of his neck, and he felt goosebumps break out all over his arms.
He wasn’t cold.
She sighed, pulling back a few inches. “Jack.”
He forced himself to raise his eyes and meet her gaze.
“Are you under the impression that I’m being coerced?”
“No. It’s not. . . I don’t-” He bit off his words, frustrated. “It’s been awhile.”
She grinned. “See you shouldn’t have said that.” Her hands trailed down his arms as she took a step back. She bit her lip as if suppressing a laugh and added, “Because you had me fooled.”
The knotted muscles in his stomach relaxed. He couldn’t keep himself from smiling back at her, despite the fact that he still felt like a tongue-tied twelve year old at his first school dance. “Good to know.” He was so tired that his voice barely worked anymore.
Renee was quiet for a few seconds, her eyes scanning his face. A flash of lightening illuminated the room even through the closed blinds, followed almost instantly by a clap of thunder that vibrated the floor.
“If I don’t go to bed, I’ll probably fall over, so I’m going.” She was at the entrance to the hallway before she turned her head and added, “I have a king-sized bed. If-” One hand curled into a fist. “The couch isn’t comfortable.”
“Okay.” He thought he should probably add something, but he didn’t know what, and he had always believed in shutting up when in doubt. She nodded slightly and vanished, the sound of her footsteps fading as she retreated down the hall.
Jack’s eyes landed on the sheep decorating the pillowcase again, and he realized they were numbered, one through twelve. The incongruity of numbered sheep in Renee’s apartment would probably have amused him more had he not been so enervated that suddenly even standing up was difficult.
He stretched out on the couch, pulling the comforter up to his chest and pushing the pillow around several times before he was finally still. Though it couldn’t have been past nine fifteen, the combination of the storm and the closed blinds threw the room into dusk. The heat came on, an air duct somewhere behind his head emitting a soothing hum.
His eyes slipped shut, and his mind began to drift from thought to thought, image to image. He didn’t want to think about the last twenty-four hours, but his usually unflappable defense mechanisms were shattered by fatigue and stress. He felt Tony firmly shaking his hand. You have my word. Pictured Bill’s face. I can’t, Jack. I’m sorry. Saw Renee’s eyes, heard her shaky voice when she said, No. You’re going to have to look at me when you pull that trigger.
Thunder smashed again, not quick this time. An explosion followed by seemingly endless echoing rumbles that finally faded away.
He pushed the comforter away, got up, and walked down the hall.
Her bedroom door was open, and he stopped there, his hand on the doorframe to steady himself. Renee was on her stomach, her visible cheek startlingly white against the deep blue pillowcase. Clearly the thunder wasn’t bothering her, because the covers on her back already rose and fell with the predictability of a metronome.
He hadn’t slept with another person in the room for so long.
Silently, he walked to the opposite side of the bed, lifted the covers, and slid in, staying as far away from her as it was possible to be without falling onto the floor. Still, she stirred when the mattress moved, and he felt compelled to say something to ensure that he didn’t startle her.
“I changed my mind.” His voice sounded like gravel in a blender.
Without opening her eyes, Renee turned her head so that she was facing him, and slipped her arms under her pillow. Her words soft and jumbled together, she murmured, “Good. Shut up and go to sleep.”
Jack smiled and rolled onto his side, a touch closer to the blue satin of Renee’s pajamas where her arm disappeared beneath the pillow.
Not too close.