She runs her tongue between my lips. I open my mouth and she delves in. She kisses me and swallows the breath from my lungs. I'm caught off-kilter, and she pushes me back against the wall, thrusting her tongue deeper into my mouth.

I've kissed and been kissed before, but I've never been kissed so desperately. That's what it is. Desperation. Desperation, and a need to feel something. But, still, I feel myself reacting to her. Damn it. This is not what this was about.

I lift my hands to her shoulders and push gently…once, twice…and a third time, a little harder. When our lips part, Renee opens her eyes. Her hands are balled in my shirt. She's breathing heavily, and says, "What?"

Her breathless, husky voice nearly makes me change my mind. I groan. "Renee. We can't do this."

One minute I was feeling only emptiness, then I felt this overwhelming longing, and I kissed him. And then he kissed me back, and my longing swiftly turned to lust. I felt alive.

And then it ended, just seconds later. "Why?" I ask.

"Because you're still in a dark place, Renee."

His excuse sounds so absurd that I laugh. "No, I see what it is," I say. I step back and hug myself. "You and all your damned, sweet words. You don't actually care about me. I'm just another helpless female you feel obligated to save."

"Hey," he says. That's the sharpest his voice has been today. I look back into his eyes as he closes the distance between us. "I could easily fuck you right now. I could easily fuck away all the darkness. Is that what you want?" Before I can speak or nod he storms on. "Because it shouldn't be."

"Why not?" I whisper.

Jack lifts a hand, which bobs hesitantly in the air before cupping my cheek. "Because in the morning, all the darkness will be back anyway. And if we do it again, it'll just be back again. It can't be killed with passion. And when we fail to kill it with passion, you'll resent me for it, and I don't want that."

"I won't resent you," I say.

"Won't you?"

I open and close my mouth.

What if he's right?

Renee shudders when she sighs, and her arms tighten around her. "Okay…"

I swallow as she turns and sits down at the kitchen chair I sat in earlier. Her elbows rest on her knees as she hides her face in her hands.

I remember my earlier fantasy about the two of us. I…I want that. The thought surprises me. I want to be with her. But not like that. I want to be more than a sympathy fuck-buddy.

I step forward and kneel in front of her. I pull her hands away from her face, and see remnants of tears on her palms and cheeks. "I'm sorry," she says. "I'm so screwed up."

"Maybe a little," I say, smiling as I brush the tears from her cheeks.

She laughs brokenly. "Aren't you supposed to say, 'no, darlin', you're not screwed up'?"

"Pretending you're not won't help anything."

She sighs again, and buries her face in her hands again. "I know."

I hate that she's hiding her face from me. I don't want her to have to hide anything from me. But…sometimes we need to hide ourselves from the rest of the world, kind of like a scab gives the tender skin beneath a chance to heal. Hesitantly, I press a kiss to the crown of her head, and then I get up and go behind her. "Renee, I do care about you," I say in her ear. "The truth is, I can see us getting together, sometime in the future, when you're ready for it. If you want it."

Renee looks up from her hands, expression frozen in shock. "Really?" she says.


She swallows. "You don't know the all the things I've done."

I can't help it. I smirk. "You don't know all the things I've done, either."

With a small huff, she says, "Right. So, what, now we share all our dirty little secrets until we can't stand to look at each other?"

My smirk softens into a smile. I shake my head. "No. Now I go back to my place."


I don't really want to leave, but I think that's best, for both of us. We both need space to breathe. I'm probably the first person she's had over in months. As for myself…we brought up a lot of memories I'd rather not think about, and I need to sort through the rubble of my past without her around. Maybe someday we'll both be healed enough to share our pasts with each other.

"Hey," I say. "How about I come over tomorrow? Help out a little?"

Renee smiles grimly and pushes the newspapers to the side, so that she can lean her elbow on the table. She rests her head in her hand as she eyes me. "You mean, fix the mess that is Renee Walker, starting with the state of my apartment?"

"Something like that," I say, half-smiling. I'm not sure I would have put it quite like that, but that's the basic idea. It's easier to hate yourself less when you're not surrounded by filth and disorder. "How does five o'clock sound?" She nods. I squeeze her shoulder. "I'll see myself out."

I close my eyes and nod. His hand slides off my shoulder as he walks toward the door. I swallow hard. My eyes squeeze tighter, until I see fuzzy magenta splotches behind my eyelids. I heard the knob turn and my eyes fly open. The chair moans, scratches against the tile. I rush after him.

Jack stops in the doorway, turning back to me with a shocked expression. I stop a few feet in front of him. "Renee?"

"Jack…please don't…"

"Don't what?" he says gently.

"Please don't…don't let me shut you out." I feel a tear sliding down my cheek. I swipe at it furiously. "I…I shut everyone else out. Once you walk out that door, I'll stop feeling again and I'll try to shut you out, too. Please don't let me."

He straightens and meets my eyes unflinchingly. "I give you my word," he says seriously.

His words release a flood of relief. "Thank you," I say. When the next tear rolls, I let it.

Jack nods. "I'll see you tomorrow, Renee."

"At five."

"Yes." He steps back through the doorway, and watches me through the corner of his eye until the door closes and latches.

Alone again. I swallow and close my eyes. I dread the emptiness that's coming. I dread the paradox of not feeling, and thinking I should, but not caring because I can't feel anything. What Jack calls the dark place is going to come back at me and eat me whole.

But that's okay, I realize. I open my eyes and stare at the closed door.

It's okay because I have his word.

Writer's Note: Thanks for reading and reviewing, guys! This is the end of When We Fall. Hope you guys liked it! :)