A/N: A "Without a Trace" fic, because it wouldn't leave me alone.
Summary:Jack Malone, his uniform, and a way of life.
Rating:PG for angst and references to adult situations.
Spoilers:Vague spoilers up through season 5, referencing Jack's relationships with Maria, Samantha, and Anne.
It hadn't been a conscious decision; not really. Hannah was colicky; Maria was exhausted; and black shoes simply didn't go well with blue socks and brown pants. He couldn't remember exactly when he'd moved his black suits to the front of the closet, but it smoothed the transition between the all-too-frequent two a.m. phone calls from the office, and his quiet exits fifteen minutes later.
Maria had noticed, and although she hadn't said anything, she'd appreciated it, he thought. By the time Kate was born, he'd become very good at dressing in the dark, and she'd become very good at sleeping through it. In retrospect, he wondered if things would have been better between them if she'd known that he kissed her goodbye every time he crept out the door into the dark world. At the time, it had seemed easier—black suits, black socks, and black shoes were easy to coordinate, even for him, and even with the lights off.
When his suits came back from the cleaners, Maria started putting black ones in front too. Or maybe she'd been the one who had reorganized them in the first place? He never could remember quite how it started. Either way, she soon stopped buying him colored shirts, and when he came home with blood smeared into his collar, she'd sigh and pick up another white shirt in his size during her lunch break. She never looked too closely at the shirts she threw away. She didn't like the grasping, bloody, horrifyingly small fingerprints he sometimes brought home.
"Dammit, Jack," she said one day, shoving a package full of new shirts at him. "Couldn't you change before you come home like that? You're scaring the girls." He'd taken the clothes without protest and put them in his desk, and bought himself more when he ran out.
The styles went out, along with his waist, and the brown and blue and pin-striped suits he'd once worn slowly made their way into the goodwill bin. Not that he had particularly minded. His black suit commanded a useful menace; a man in a black suit was one of two things: a mortician or a cop, and most people would give a wide berth to either.
He wasn't sure when his ties had also turned black. There hadn't really been a reason. One day, he simply realized that he'd worn a black tie fourteen days in a row. After two or three obligatory Johnny Cash jokes, people stopped saying anything. They also stopped noticing when he didn't go home or sleep for three days. Who the hell could tell, when he wore the same thing every day?
"You are so hard to buy presents for!" Hannah told him one weekend before Father's Day, her hands on her hips, full of as much aggravation as an eight-year-old could muster. "Everyone else can buy their Dad a tie!" He'd laughed and suggested that she draw him a picture for his office instead, which was, in his mind, a much better gift anyway. She'd bought him cologne, presumably with her mother's help.
His uniform had its advantages, but he told himself that it didn't mean anything. It was just something he put on before work. He could always wear a red tie if he wanted, or a tan suit.
Except he knew he couldn't. He'd learned that one May afternoon when he was playing with his children in the park, dressed in a cotton t-shirt and faded jeans he'd had for twenty years. He'd just pushed Kate on the swing when a woman walked by. She had the pallor of someone who had forced herself into the sunshine for the first time in weeks, and her face was withdrawn and sad. Which made perfect sense, because Jack had stood in her doorway last February, and told her that her son was dead. The boy had been missing, but now he was truly lost, and Jack had watched the grief pool in a mother's eyes. He'd watched the moment imprint on her dreams for the rest of her life, and knew that she would wake up next week, and next year, and ten years from now, sobbing as she relived the day a man stood on her porch and told her that her baby was gone.
She'd walked past him in the park that day, just after Jack pushed Kate in the swing, and although she had looked him square in the face, the only expression in her eyes had been of wistful remembrance for a little boy she'd once brought to the park. Jack missed the next push, bringing a protest from Kate, thunderstruck by the realization: she hadn't recognized him. He had no doubt that she would always remember an FBI agent, standing on her steps wearing a black suit and tie. But she wouldn't remember his face.
He wasn't sure whether he should be enormously relieved, or deeply disturbed. He knew that he would sleep easier knowing that he wasn't haunting someone else's dreams. And yet, he knew that Jack Malone—the father, the husband, the lover, the son, the friend—disappeared far too easily as it was. Where in God's name did that man go during the brutal days and long nights if a dark suit and agent's badge were the only parameters of his soul?
He wondered if he'd been trying to prove something, that first night when Samantha slowly untied the knot of his tie and slid it off his neck. She'd held his gaze, and he knew that she saw his hesitation, which had nothing to do with Maria or his girls.
"I don't know there is anything left of me under this suit," he admitted. She could have pretended that she didn't know what he was talking about; she could have made a ribald joke about what she expected to find. But Jack knew that she wouldn't, and that was why they were where they found themselves that night.
She gently unfastened the top buttons of his shirt, and traced the hollow of his throat with her lips. "Let me show you that there is," she whispered, easing his jacket off of his shoulders, her hands moving past his barriers, scalding and sensuous against his skin.
And she had. For the next months, he'd blessed the advantages of Maria's familiarity with his late-night absences, the clean shirts in his office, and his ability to wear the same suit two days in a row without anyone noticing. But it hadn't lasted. Maria found out, and kicked him out of the house. At least packing had been easy.
The morning that he begged Maria to take him back, he'd had Samantha's blood on his shirt. "God, Jack," Maria whispered, waking him as he slept slumped in the chair beside their bed. She'd thrown the shirt away, and he went back to hanging a suit on the chair before bed every night—on the nights he came home, anyway—just in case the phone rang at two a.m. She'd woken up the first few times it happened, until he remembered how to dress in the dark again.
In this end, it hadn't mattered much; their reconciliation hadn't lasted long. At least packing had been easy. The boxes labeled "Kate's Dolls" and "Hanna's Books" went on the trucks to Chicago. "Jack's Suits" stayed behind. After that, his clothes were the primary decoration in the otherwise bare apartment. He hung them wherever the hell he felt like it, on the days when he felt like hanging them up at all. Some nights, he slept with the lights on, usually because the sleeping pills kicked in before he could drag himself off of the couch.
One Saturday after he'd worn everything he owned at least five times, Jack had shoved the entire mess into the trunk of his car and took it to a dry cleaner. The woman behind the counter had looked at him sympathetically. Apparently destroyed men with four months of dirty laundry were her specialty. "You should hang these up in your closet," she explained carefully when she returned his wardrobe to him two days later. He'd suspected that if she'd known about it, she'd also have told him to throw away the pile of blood-spattered shirts that had gathered in the corner of his bathroom, and the bottle of pills on the coffee table. He'd decided that it was a good idea.
Jack had struggled to find his pants and tie, which Anne had tossed somewhere on the floor in her apartment, the first time his phone rang while he was sleeping beside her. "You can turn on the lights," she said, amused, as he muttered curses under his breath.
"Sorry," he shrugged apologetically as she clicked on the bedside light. "I didn't want to wake you."
"Oh, don't worry about it," she answered. "Max used to bang around at all hours of the morning. He never could figure out what to wear without every light in the apartment turned on."
"I don't generally have that problem," Jack said dryly.
"No. I wouldn't think so. Speaking of which …" Anne said, and retrieved a box from the bedstand. "I got you a gift."
"Stripes?" Jack asked dubiously, looking at the tie in his hand.
"They won't hurt you," she answered gently. She had been wrong, of course. Once she was gone, they hurt a great deal. This time, Jack knew what he was doing when he moved the colored ties into the back of his closet. He knew that his dark look took something from him by whittling him down to the fundamentals of his existence, but he also knew that life would be easier when Anne's ties made their way out into the goodwill bill.
"Back to black?" Elena asked wistfully one evening, hesitating in his doorway after he signed her latest report.
"Yeah," Jack answered with a shrug.
"It suits you, I suppose," she said with a sigh.
It did. And for now, it also held him together.