Jon heard the music and laughter, the conversations, the singing. After three days within the camp, the people enjoying this time had become familiar to him. He'd known some prior to Stinson's experiment, had learned about others as the experiment played out.
But none had been so familiar to him as the woman he now held in his arms. He'd had a difficult time calling her Annie when they'd first arrived at the camp, though he knew he had no choice. He couldn't risk destroying her by unleashing a cascade of memories that was supposed to remain hidden.
The experiment had been stopped and those who had been imprisoned within their own minds had been released.
Jennifer had returned to him.
He had first confessed his love for her when she was still Annie. When they were finally alone, he'd been able to tell her. Jennifer. He'd kissed her before he said the words, but he'd been able to tell her that he loved her.
When they'd first joined the party, she'd been taken from him for several songs and he'd simply watched her dance. These were her friends, the ones she'd worked with, lived with, protected for the last six months. He couldn't deny them this and he wouldn't deny her it either.
But she'd returned to him at the first slow song played. She'd taken his hand, entwined her fingers with his and asked him to dance with her. He remembered his hesitation when she'd asked him to dance with her the first time, at their old base. Now? There was no hesitation. He wasn't going to miss this for anything.
As they moved slowly to the music, he found himself noticing the small things. The gold highlights in her hair, reflected by the glow of the campfires that surrounded them. The sparkle in her eyes. The way their hands fit together and how her thumb stroked his. The smile she kept turning in his direction.
"What's going through that head of yours?" Jennifer's voice interrupted his thoughts.
He smiled back at her, tightened his hold on her. Pulled her just a little closer. "I like dancing with you. We need to do it more often."
She turned her head slightly, eyeing him dubiously. "You look entirely too serious for someone thinking about just dancing."
He shrugged and tried to keep his expression impassive. "Maybe I'm trying to come up with my ultimate plan to woo you away from this group and come back home with us."
Her eyebrows rose and a devilish look crossed her face. "I'm not sure I've been wooed before. Will I like it?"
With a grin, he lowered his forehead to hers and said just loud enough for her to hear, "I guess you'll just have to wait and find out, now won't you?" Jones's brew was certainly making this easier than he'd expected it to be. The awkwardness that had been between them was gone and he was thoroughly enjoying it.
A loud cheer rose from a set of tables to the east and both looked over.
"The guys are having a great time," Jennifer nearly giggled. Hawk was seated at the table across from a wiry young man, with Tank and Scout behind him. They were surrounded by men and women of all ages, all of them intently watching the match that was taking place.
Jon had noticed them earlier and had been amused as well. "We're in big trouble if Dread attacks again. They're not even close to sober." Admission of the fact didn't mean he was going to do anything about it though. The last time they'd done any celebrating was when they'd taken down the Icarus platform and prevented the widespread digitization of the eastern seaboard. They deserved this break.
As he turned back, he felt her snuggle against his chest. If she'd done it to hide her yawn, it didn't work. "It's been a long day."
She nodded in agreement. "I should be getting some sleep. There's so much to do in the morning. I'm going to be up by 0600 to make sure I've got everything covered."
He understood. Until she left the camp, she was still their leader. With that role came the responsibility of overseeing every step of the breakdown. The others would help where they could, as would he, but he knew the weight she carried. The gnawing in her gut could only be eased by checking off every detail on her list. "I'll walk you back to your room."
They slowly made their way to the edge of the party, with Jennifer politely refusing to join in on the festivities at each small group they passed. They settled into a companionable silence on the short walk to her building. With the flip of a switch at the entrance, the hall became dimly lit and she led the way to her room.
Power hesitated at the doorway. They'd not said anything about whether he would join her and he didn't want to presume anything.
Light from the lamp on her desk filled the room and she turned to him, stopping when she saw his distance. For a long moment, neither of them moved. The sounds of the party outside drifted down the corridor, filling the room with a soft melody. Then she extended her hand to him.
"One more dance?"
He walked to her desk, placed his weapons belt on it and took her in his arms. This wasn't the dance from the party. She was closer, more relaxed. Her body leaned into his, her cheek resting against his chest. They stayed that way for the next two songs, slowly moving around the room.
"I've missed you so much." Jon squeezed her hand, held it against his chest as they danced. She looked up at him and he saw a tumble of emotions in her eyes. "These last eight months have been the worst of my life." And the last three days had been the roughest. Seeing her alive, but not knowing if she'd ever remember him, if she'd ever have these feelings for him again, had nearly driven him crazy. "I'm pretty sure we owe Jackson a huge favor for bringing us here."
She shook her head. "He broke into my jumpship. And the base. I think we're even now."
Her words lifted his spirits that much more. She called it 'my jumpship'. At that moment, it was music to his ears.
Jennifer stopped moving, her head turned to the door. "Is that Scout singing?" she asked incredulously.
Jon listened for a moment, then grinned as well. "It most certainly is. And he's pulled out Sinatra. Yeah. We're definitely in trouble if Dread shows up. He's not even going to be able to trigger his suit, let alone fire accurately." There was a sparkle in her eyes he hadn't seen in a very long time. "This amuses you, doesn't it?"
"He introduced me to Frank Sinatra with this song."
He shook his head, laughing. "It's a classic, that's for sure."
She was yawning again. He pressed his hand to her cheek, his fingers stroking her ear. "I'll let you get some sleep." He didn't want this to end, but he meant what he said.
"You need some sleep too." Her eyes caught his and her voice softened when she spoke again. "You can stay here tonight. If you want." Her arms slipped around his waist in a hug.
He brushed gently at her hair, held her gaze.
Before he could speak, she continued. "Yes, I'm sure."
Though she sounded like Annie, the certainty in her eyes assured him it was Jennifer talking to him. "Thank you. I'd like that."
With another yawn, she disengaged herself from him and walked to her bunk, slumping onto it in fatigue. He sat down beside her, saw her turn her head to regard him.
"I don't have any pajamas." Her boots came off and she pushed them under the bunk.
Power shook his head, pulling at the collar of his fatigues to show her what was beneath. "Don't worry about it. I came with underwear and a t-shirt." Jon untied his boots and pulled them off, sliding them beside hers.
A slight grin turned up the corner of her mouth. "I was talking about me."
He was silent a moment. Digesting these little tidbits that were so very 'un'Jennifer were becoming easier. Even though they were still coming out of left field. "I see."
She leaned against him, nudging his shoulder. "I'm not trying to be forward. I just wanted you to know that we're heavy on armaments, vegetables and books. Clothing is a whole lot harder to come by."
He nudged back, caught the twinkle in her eyes. And couldn't tell if this one was more Jennifer or Annie.
"I have a tank top and my underwear as well. Fair enough?" With that, she got up and pulled a blanket off the shelf, tossed it on the bunk. "It was getting chilly out there. We might need this."
She walked across the room, unbuttoning her shirt as she went.
This was definitely more Annie. Jennifer had always been modest, almost shy, even when it came to examinations after being injured. Jon mentally shook himself. He'd have to stop making these comparisons. It wasn't fair to her. She'd changed so much from the Dread Youth soldier she'd once been. This was yet another part of the progression.
At the doorway, Jennifer turned off the hall light, then silently shut the door. With a flick of the switch, the room became dark. As his eyes adjusted, he heard her walk back, navigating the furniture without difficulties. Her shirt dropped to the floor, followed by her pants.
He hesitated, almost allowed her to just get into the bed. But he couldn't let the moment pass. He slipped his hand around to her lower back, softly spoke her name. When she looked up at him, he took a step closer and kissed her lips gently.
Her response thrilled him. The emotions he'd held inside for so long, locked away until it was too late, rushed back. He wanted to remember this moment forever.
He would remember this moment forever. Never had a kiss tasted this sweet. The emptiness he'd felt for so long had been filled, by the woman he thought he'd lost.
He slowly ended the kiss, pressed his forehead to hers. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she grinned at him in the darkness. He couldn't resist. He wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug and spun her around. "I should've done this a long time ago."
Jennifer lightly kissed him, her fingers stroking through his hair. "No more 'should'ves'."
With a nod, he returned the kiss and set her down gently on the bunk.
Less than a minute later, his clothes were in a pile beside hers. He slipped under the covers, felt the cool comfort of the sheets.
"How do you like to sleep?" he asked, propping himself up on his elbow. He was already invading her space and didn't want to ruin her sleep as a result.
"With my eyes closed?"
He could hear the grin, though he couldn't see her face. She rolled toward him, settling on her back. Definitely more Jennifer now.
She reached up and stroked his cheek. "Jon, most nights I'm so worn out that I just fall into bed, cover up and go to sleep."
"Fair enough." Power knew the feeling well. There were times he never even made it out of his suit before he'd fallen asleep. He settled onto his side next to her and pulled the blankets over them both. "Come here." He drew her in close, her back to his chest, his arm around her waist. Her fingers entwined with his and she pulled his arm up, pressing it tightly against her chest. She didn't let go and he swore she snuggled into him even more closely.
"Jon?" Her voice was sleepy already.
He kissed her hair, squeezed her gently.
"I'm glad Stinson didn't realize who I was when he had that chance."
He would be forever grateful for that error in judgment. "Me too. I love you, Jennifer."
"Love you too," she breathed out softly. "Very much."
This was how he'd imagined it. Spooning her on a slightly lumpy bunk, with blankets and a shared pillow. He hadn't expected their first night together to be filled with passion. He knew her far too well to think it would go that way. She'd need time. And he would give her whatever time she needed to feel comfortable with him. He was simply ecstatic to have her in his arms this way.
True to her word, she was so tired that her breathing became steady within a minute. He wanted to stay awake as long as possible to savor every second of this. Her legs, slightly tangled with his, the gentle push of her breasts against his arm with each breath she took. The softness of her skin and the warmth of her body. The fact that she'd felt comfortable enough with him to fall asleep in his arms.
But his physical needs finally won and he fell asleep, his body wrapped protectively around the woman he loved.
It took a moment for his brain to register the beeping noise that echoed through the room. Power vaguely remembered setting the alarm and placing it on the floor next to the bunk before he'd fallen asleep. With a groan, he reached behind himself and fumbled for the chronometer, pressing a button to silence it.
"Morning arrives much too quickly," came Jennifer's sleepy response.
Power dropped the timer back on the floor and wrapped his arm around her again. She snuggled in close, burrowing her feet into his.
"What time is it?" she asked softly.
"A few minutes before 0600." He needed a few more hours of sleep. With her at his side. This was going to be a difficult day at best. He doubted there was enough coffee to make it anything close to manageable, but if it meant they would be a team again, he would get through the day.
Jennifer stretched for several long moments before she finally groaned and rolled almost onto her stomach. "I'm not ready for this."
He reached out and rubbed her neck, running the heel of his hand down her spine and back up again. "The sooner we start, the sooner we'll get this done." How he wished he had the motivation to believe those words. Waking up to her, feeling her body like this. He wanted to ignore the world right now. And the door was closed, so they could ignore it if they wanted.
She grunted her response as he continued the back rub.
Jon shifted on the bunk, propping himself up on his elbow. As he moved, his toes brushed the bottom of her foot. He heard her startled squeal and moved his legs back in time to avoid the involuntary kick as she attempted to move away quickly. He snagged her waist, wanting to pull her close again, but succeeded only in making her nearly shriek as his fingers grazed her stomach. Her laughter became muffled when she rolled into the blankets, arms clutching her sides, effectively trapping his fingers in place on her stomach.
"You are so ticklish!" Jon laughed in surprise. He sat up, scooping her with the arm that was under her. She wiggled free, attempting to whirl on him, but her foot caught on the blanket and she fell back against him. Just as quickly, she pushed off his leg, freeing her foot and climbing to her knees.
In the shadows of the room, she looked over her shoulder at him, her mouth open in a smile. Strands of hair fell out of her ponytail, framing her face. Her skin was creamy against her gray tank top and panties and he reached out a hand to brush her arm.
She countered, much to his surprise. He'd wanted simply to touch her, but it was almost like she was egging him on. Did she want to roughhouse with him? With a grin, he reached out again, poking at her stomach. She swatted, but he snagged her wrist and pulled her closer.
They'd sparred together in the past, so he wasn't surprised when she twisted her hand to escape. He allowed the move, attempting to grab her again with the opposite hand. In his haste, he didn't anticipate her move backward and realized too late he was off balance. She took advantage of his poor timing and leaped onto him as he fell forward, forcing him onto his stomach. Her body pressed against his, their legs tangling.
"Oh no you don't!" Jennifer giggled as he reached behind himself to catch any part of her anatomy.
"Bet me." Her laughter was music to his ears. He reached for her leg with his left hand, causing her to shift to the right to evade. Using the momentum, he playfully rolled onto her, pinning her on her back. "You're lucky there's not enough room here, or I'd have to steamroller you!"
"What's a steamroller?" Her breath was warm on his ear.
"Guess you'll just have to wait and see." He quickly but carefully rolled, now facing her, locking her legs between his. Grinning, he pressed her arms into the bunk above her head and bent over, his forehead just above hers. "Gotcha."
She squirmed unsuccessfully, still grinning. "I guess you have."
And as she moved beneath him, he realized the position he'd put them in. The heat from her body radiated through the thin fabric of the tank top and underwear. They were so close they brushed each other as they breathed. Her body relaxed under his and he knew she recognized that the moment had changed as well.
Her eyes flicked around the room, then focused on him again. "Not here," she said softly.
He understood. "Not now." He didn't want their first time to be in a place with a thousand people milling about. He wanted a lock on the door and time to enjoy it. He didn't simply want to have sex with her. He wanted to make love to her. He wanted to explore her body, find more of those tickle spots, figure out what made her melt and what would drive her absolutely crazy with desire.
"I want to go home," she whispered.
He leaned his forehead against hers. "Then let's get everyone on their way and go home."
She smiled that incredible smile of hers and nuzzled his cheek. He breathed in her scent, felt her body against his. And looked forward to feeling her skin against his. Soon.