Author: Beer Good
Summary: Some things are just never meant to be. Heck, some things are practically over before they begin. But they still leave traces.
Disclaimer: Joss rows the boat ashore, hallelujah! Joss owns the characters, hallelu-u-u-jah!
Of course, it's not nearly the worst relationship mistake Jack's ever made. Not like he lost the love of his life or anything; some things just aren't meant to be. Still, even years later, he thinks about the kid sometimes.
The Lehane woman (as he thinks of her afterwards, after her face starts blending into a slightly hazy composite of Ex-Girlfriends) is fun enough to be around at first. Sure, she has a daughter and he's never really been the type to date single moms, but it turns out the little rugrat is a hoot and a half. This little 8-year-old, cute as a bug, who seems to worship the ground he walks on. Pretty cool. He takes her to the park or the mall on Saturdays when her mom likes to sleep in, he teaches her the foosball game someone left in his apartment (she has great reflexes and actually beats him more often than not), reads her stories, makes her laugh – which makes him laugh. When there isn't a party on, the three of them spend evenings in front of the TV just like regular people and for a while he even thinks that he could get used to this.
But then, of course, things start going South. OK, he probably has no right to complain, Lord knows he could probably stand to drink a lot less himself, but damnit, the woman's drunk all the time. And inevitably, there's fights. At first they lead to apologies and great make-up sex, and then they lead to angry sex, and finally they just lead to more fights. Soon it's the only thing they share, and that's not really something you base a relationship on.
So when he gets a job offer in Chicago he decides to cut his losses and tells her it's over. The kid hides out in her room again as they yell at each other, but there's not even any real spark in their fighting. Whatever it was is already dead, ships passing in the night and so forth. He empties out his overnight drawer, goes back to his second-hand apartment to start packing for the move, and that should be it, really. Certainly not the first failed relationship for either of them.
Only the next day, the kid shows up at his door, sporting a black eye, near-hysterical. He brings her inside, gets her a glass of milk and tries to calm her down. Apparently, she and her mom had a fight about him leaving, and now she's going on about how her mom is much nicer when he's around, that she wants to live with him instead, and that she hates her mom and never ever wants to go home again.
And it's not like he doesn't feel sorry for her. Hell, she's a good kid; nobody gets to pick their parents, and more than a few of the fights he had with her mom was about her disciplinary tactics. But let's face it, what's he gonna do? Demand custody of a girl he's known for less than six months? Taking her with him would be kidnapping, and staying simply isn't an option. His lease is up and besides, this might be a bona fide career opportunity. A chance to get out of Boston and straighten out his life.
So they have The Talk. You know, the one where he explains to her about how he isn't her daddy (hell, she knows THAT), how it's not up to him to decide, how this is not her fault, things just didn't work out between him and her mom, yada yada yada. That running away doesn't solve anything and that her mother loves her, really, she's just under a lot of pressure and needs her daughter to stick around and help her get through this. And he tells her she's gonna be
"Five by five? What's that mean?"
"It's something we used to say when I was in the army. It means you're tough. Means you know that whatever happens, you'll always land on your feet, because you're a real badass and you don't take crap from anyone. OK? Think you can look out for yourself for me, Faithy?"
He ruffles her hair and she knows the game's up, so she smiles a smile that never reaches her eyes and nods. It's not her first break-up either.
He sees her to the door and when she moves to hug him, he backs off and instead offers a manly handshake. Because she's crying and if he's perfectly honest with himself, he's not sure he won't join her if he lets himself. Poor kid didn't deserve to get caught in the middle of this, but that's just all the more reason for him to make it a clean break.
So he shuts the door in her face, telling himself she's gonna be OK, and they're out of each other's lives for good. And when someone hurls rocks through every window in his house two days later, he's already a thousand miles away and never knows it.