Disclaimer: these great characters belong to Hank Steinberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, CBS… you name it. Sadly, they're not mine.
Summary: He couldn't live without the risk.
A/N: A big, huge thank you to Mariel who very kindly accepted to beta-read this and gave me great feedback. Other than that... enjoy!
-:-:-:-:-:-Jack sighed at the amount of paperwork he still had to get done. It was the part they tended to leave out of the leaflets when they tried to hire you. The ads focused on the human side of the job, the thrill of action and the hero you could become when you saved lives-- but he had come to comprehend that the true brave man was the one who managed to triumph over the huge piles of files. He had stopped counting the hours spent here in his office with eyes bleary from lack of sleep a long time ago.
One of his elbows was on the edge of his desk and he moved it slightly, the palm of his hand supporting the weight of his head as he scribbled words that were losing meaning as the minutes passed. Focusing became more difficult; his thoughts were drifting away, far away to some distant place where he didn't have to brood over the events of the last twenty-four hours. If only he could have just forgotten… fallen asleep and woken up in a world where Stacey Thompson had not been tortured, raped and executed.
There was no way he'd find sleep tonight. The horrid images kept playing in his mind, as if he still hadn't suffered enough from the shock of arriving too late. He should have found sooner about the phone call the killer had made, should have checked on that cabin in the woods before. And he should have sent more agents with Sam and Danny, instead of exposing them to so much danger. He still shivered at the thought of what might have happened if Danny hadn't nailed the bad guy to the floor right after he had sent Samantha flying down the stairs. She only sported a large cut on the forehead, contusions and an injured wrist, but it could have been a lot worse.
Extending an arm over the still incomplete report, he reached for the plastic goblet that had been on a corner of his desk for a while and took a sip of coffee before carefully setting the cup back down. It was cold and tasted horrible. Deciding that he was definitely thirsty-- or rather, in need of caffeine-- and that the report could wait two minutes, he rose and walked out of his office. He seized the opportunity to stretch his stiff legs before heading to what they had come to affectionately call the kitchen, one of the only entire file-free rooms in the building. It was more of a staff room than an actual kitchen, but someone must have pointed out that the fridge made it look like one and the name had stuck, giving familiarity to a room that had probably become the closest thing to home they had in this very official-looking place.
It wasn't as dark there as in the bullpe, but Jack didn't worry: at this late hour, he wouldn't encounter anyone. If the lights were often left on, it was only because everyone forgot to turn them off when they left the room, hands full of snacks, and went back to work.
When the sound of footsteps reached his ears, he briefly wondered who it could be. Maybe a janitor. He found he didn't care much; he was at the FBI headquarters and the word secure seemed to be painted in bold letters all around the building. Anyone who wanted to come into his office and didn't have a badge had to go through half a dozen security checks before being allowed entrance-- it was why the idea of some dangerous criminal getting milk from the fridge was preposterous.
Samantha caught sight of him the moment he appeared at the door. As she took a step back, retreating into the room to let him pass, she had the momentary impression that the night's temperature had dropped, becoming as cold as the soda can she was holding in her left hand. She could have left, getting away with a simple good night or perhaps nothing at all, just this frosty, agonizing indifference between them; but instead something held her back and she found herself heading involuntarily toward the soda machine.
He stopped, having heard her move his way more than he had seen her. "It's quite late, what are you still doing here?"
He winced inwardly at the careful, almost shy tone that he could feel didn't suit him. The word secure was no longer painted across the walls. Samantha was another kind of danger, unforeseeable and unpreventable. It was the sort of danger he had become addicted to, the one he had never been able to run away from because it had always caught up with him, whatever amount of effort he had put into trying to escape it. She tended to make him forget who he was and what he wanted, his own senses betraying him in the most treacherous ways when she was nearby.
Sam was the risk he loved, hated, and couldn't live without.
"I− I just finished my own share of paperwork," she stammered slightly, caught off guard by the sudden question and shaken out of her stupor and contemplation of the only person in the world who had this effect on her. She was painfully aware of how close they were-- and even worse, of the fact that they could have been fifteen feet apart if they had wanted to be. The kitchen was large enough. "I was on my way out."
He nodded, though to what, exactly, he wasn't sure. The mention of paperwork made him want to smile but instead his eyes stopped on the large cut on her forehead, on the red and swelled skin around the slash that contrasted with her fair complexion. If there had been someone else in the room he might have said something, but here, tonight, in this frighteningly intimate proximity, he refrained from commenting.
It didn't mean, however, that she didn't know what he was looking at. "It was a long day," she stated simply. It would have to be enough, because she didn't feel like talking about it. Didn't want to remember. Didn't want to see Stacey Thompson's contorted body in her mind's eyes, and definitely didn't want to think about how close to being shot she had been when Danny had miraculously surprised her attacker from behind.
She kept her right wrist close to her body, crossing her arms in front of her. It hurt more than she would have admitted, but the freezing soda can made the painful area numb and eased the pain. It also gave her something to think about other than the too short distance between Jack and her-- it seemed she could have touched him without extending a hand further than the tip of her shoes.
He caught the flicker of pain in her eyes even as she looked away. "How's your wrist?" he asked quietly.
The concern in his voice made it evident that he genuinely cared. A small sigh escaped her lips when she was reminded, needlessly, that he had never stopped caring.
Jack thought he felt a flutter of air on his face. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking. But the result was there; he felt the air in his neck prickle as a shiver ran down his spine. "Let me see," he requested gently.
She wanted to say no, to repeat that she was entirely fine and that it would be pointless for him to look. But she glanced up at him and he held up her gaze, dropping all pretence, letting her see the bottom of his soul. He had never been able to keep any kind of barrier between them, had never been able to hide, or even look away. And as his haunted eyes met hers she knew that, just like her, he was only trying not to think about what neither of them would ever forget.
"I'm fine, really," she muttered, but even as she did so she rolled up her sleeve, almost against her will, and revealed the bruised skin.
He gave her a quiet I-told-you-it-wasn't-so-superficial look before allowing himself to lay a hand on her wrist. He was only looking at the damage, only checking that she had nothing broken. Touching the bruises, he realised just how lame the excuse was, but it didn't stop him from delicately running his fingers along her skin.
The muscles in Sam's arm tensed, but it wasn't because he was pressing too hard on the sore area. The contact of his hand was awakening something else, something deep that had never truly been asleep. She tried to tell herself that he was going to let go of her wrist any second, but there was no pretending that he wasn't taking a little too much time with this. A familiar sensation rose in her, too good to be ignored, too intense to be defeated.
"Jack--" she warned.
One of his hands went up and his fingers were suddenly on her face, leaving soft trails along her jawline. There was no need to talk; everything had already been said between them. She set the soda can on the table and reached for his neck, submerging herself in the sensation of his burning skin, her own body feverishly reacting to the contact and intensifying it. He let go of her wrist and gently pulled the back of her head to bring their foreheads together, unable to think and completely powerless to stop. She could feel his breath and the tip of his nose brushing hers delicately as he leaned in closer, deliberately− and insanely− willing to reduce further the distance that separated them.
There were a million things she would have wanted to tell him; she had to point out that this was a very wrong idea, that they'd regret it in five minutes, that this couldn't possibly be going anywhere and that, at any rate, they weren't supposed to let this happen. But when he spoke her name in a low whisper that told her just how much he was longing to hold her close, she could voice none of these concerns, could not look away from his dark gaze, and could not detach herself from the deep craving his familiarity was stirring inside her.
Knowing it was pointless to fight against this, Sam gave up. This was her weakness, this would lose them both, it really would. She brought her lips to his in a slow, hesitant movement. It wasn't the place, it wasn't the time, and above all, she wasn't supposed to be with him; but none of it mattered. All she cared about was the wonderful taste of his lips, sweet and salty at the same time, with a hint of aftershave and coffee, so much like Jack, so much like a dream come true again.
Jack almost groaned in pleasure at the softness of her lips. It didn't even strike him that he ought to feel relieved; somehow he had always known that her feelings for him were still there, just as he had always known that she wanted him as much as he needed her. As though with a mind of their own, his hands moved to keep her close, and there was no way he was going to stop because the sensations her response produced were overpowering and nothing, nothing had felt this good in years.
It wasn't like they hadn't kissed before, but it had been a long time, after all. Not long enough, if you considered that they were never supposed to be more than work colleagues; but too long, if anything resembling wisdom was thrown to the wind.
The nature of their kiss became more urgent as they rediscovered each other; her hesitation fading into assurance as she became aware that it was truly him, that it was her, that it was them and that they had done it before. He was falling and she was falling with her; or maybe it was she who had fallen first and he hadn't been able to rescue her, merely toppling over the edge helplessly, unable to stop them both from being precipitated into a bottomless abyss. It was their own way to cope with grief and loss, the only thing that seemed to work when everything else failed. In that instant, for all that it was wrong and irresponsible, there was at least the crucial reassurance that as long as they didn't let go of the other, Stacey Thompson would be nothing more than a name among others in a list of failures.
Fours years of loneliness on both sides were resurfacing, melting into this kiss as if to chase the demons of solitude. They hadn't changed; the overwhelming feelings that threatened to engulf them had always been there.
So was the pain, so were the lies, and so was the immorality of it all.
In a second of awareness Sam broke the kiss; her hand left his neck and settled on his shoulder, then, for lack of a better place to put it, on his shirt where she clung to the material as if to try and hold back what she knew was about to escape her.
They weren't kids any more; they weren't teenagers having run off together and trying to hide from their parents. They were two adults, aware of what they were doing, responsible for their acts-- or at least, supposed to be. Here, in the very heart of a building that housed the headquarters of the FBI's missing persons unit, there was no one to tell them off for what they were doing; no one but their own reasons screaming at them to stop this madness.
It was a single word spoken in a ragged breath, but in it he put his own desperation, as if that one name had the power to stop them from being separated. His eyes found hers, gleaming strangely under the neon lights, and caught the shadows dancing on her face, the strand of hair that had fallen from behind her ear and the combination of uncertainty and desire that she was failing to keep under control. She wanted nothing more than to press her body against his, to share again what they once had, to sink into the offered comfort of his arms in order to forget everything else, and then--
She bit on her lower lip, exercising every bit of restraint she had left to refrain from reaching for him again. Hypnotised, she stared at the sweat on his forehead, at the rising and falling of his chest as he struggled to keep a steady breathing-- at him, both so hauntingly close and so excruciatingly out of reach.
"Were you here for a coffee?"
His lips twisted and she thought for an instant that he was going to smile at the bluntness of her sudden statement, at the way she had managed to get them both back to earth, or maybe at the idea that coffee might still be something on his mind. But it was an aching expression that came out, almost a grimace, of pain and sorrow balanced with a denial that she was too well accustomed to seeing imprinted on his features.
"Yeah, I was," he said in a whisper. He no longer wanted the coffee. He just wanted her, with a desperation that he hadn't realised was so overwhelming until now. A question burned his lips and he couldn't hold it back, couldn't stop this moment from becoming yet another one he would later have to add to his list of regrets. "Do you want--?"
The words died on his lips when her eyes filled with tears, and he left the rest hanging, suspended in mid-air between them. She knew what the question was anyway. Jack wasn't asking if she also wanted a coffee; he was offering to head out with her and finish at her apartment what they had started in the half-darkness of a federal building.
And all she wanted was to say yes.
"I--" her lips shook, but not as much as her hands on his white, spotless shirt. She set her eyes on her bruised wrist, and then on the hand that he had laid on her arm. Finally, they fell on the small object encircling one of his fingers. The light reflected on it and she straightened imperceptibly, just enough to make him follow her glance.
She let go of his shirt.
"I couldn't bear that anymore, Jack."
The words were spoken in a low, strangled voice, but she might as well have shouted them. He knew what she was talking about; they had never needed to talk to understand each other. Implicitly, she had made him comprehend that she wanted nothing more than to take him to her apartment. Implicitly, she had also told him that she wouldn't do it if it meant having to put up with the secrecy and the lies that would be sure to come with him.
"What if I took it off?"
She looked up at him, a dazzled, stunned look creeping on her features. The vulnerability about her made him want to wrap his arms around her shoulders, because he'd rarely seen Sam like this, completely, utterly exposed.
A tear rolled down her cheek, but she made no move to wipe it away. What difference did it make if he saw her cry, if he saw the raw ache inside her? It was merely the reflection of the pain in his heart anyway; because in this moment he wasn't her married boss, just the other half of her shattered soul.
She shut her eyes, her silhouette wavering in the deafening silence of a room that he didn't believe was so welcoming after all. "Don't make promises you won't be able to hold."
He didn't answer, the finality of her words resonating in his ears. It might have been better to die, right here and now, better to never remember the underlying bitterness that had invaded her voice. As though in slow-motion, he brought a thumb to her cheek and dried her tears, then lowered it and took hold of her hand in his, willing to reassure her, or rather, attempting to reassure them both.
Something inside him broke when she covered his hand with hers, entwining their fingers together. The gesture felt so normal;much more normal than if it had been Maria standing there with him. How had he become the man he was now, calling familiar what should have remained foreign and foreign everything that he had once considered familiar?
He didn't even know what to say. There were a thousand answers and yet none was appropriate; there could have been a thousand lies but there was only one unavoidable, heart-shattering truth. And they both knew what it was.
They had always known.
She fought against the tears but they came back unchecked. Somehow, she found enough courage to gently release his hand; and somewhere she found the strength to mutter words that were more painful than anything about Stacey Thompson's case had ever been. "Good night, Jack."
He stared unseeingly at a point that had been just below her chin as she left, every step she took echoing on tiles that seemed colder than ice.
And then she was gone, completely gone.
All that remained were the bare walls of the kitchen, and the last remnants of the word secure that had been blown to pieces.