A/N: This is one of those stories that stopped me from writing another. Sometimes you just have to give in. It's only about 3 chapters long and is set about 6 years after the series ended (I have a detailed timeline, so just trust me on this). There may be some familiar story lines and ideas coming through but that's to be expected with this kind of story... A big hug to my lovely beta, Mariel, who managed to sit at her PC with a painfully sore back to beta this for me. And thank you to all the regular readers for still sticking with the WAT universe. Once this is out of the way, I'll get back to my other fic, I promise.
Disclaimer: CBS owns Without a Trace, not they ever deserved it.
Rating: T. Oh, you know what I'm like...
Out of the Blue
She had been very, very careful.
It had taken five slow years, and here she was at last, technically just feet away from him.
A lot of determination and a fair amount of desperation had been involved.
Pertinent people had been contacted, her aim not known to them. Favors had been called in -and also promised- leading towards her aim.
A certain file had been sought and found.
Pieces of the complicated, difficult puzzle had been put together in a meticulous fashion that had tested her patience and resolve.
It had been painstaking, secret work involving using other people and at times she had nearly given up.
But finally, inexorably, it had all led her right here. It wasn't quite the back of beyond but it certainly felt close enough to it.
Taking a deep breath as she put her hand forward to push the door, she paused. She knew he was inside, working. Now she just had to step through the threshold and see him for herself.
Confront him, rather.
Opening the door, Samantha felt the welcome cool air from inside brush her face as a small bell tinkled her arrival in an old-fashioned way. Closing the door carefully behind her, she made her way to the pamphlet display immediately to her left and picked one up at random. Pretending to peruse it, she held it up to mask most of her face so she could survey the surprisingly busy store.
Just then a young male employee zeroed in on her and welcomed her brightly, asking if she needed any help.
Samantha courteously brushed him off. She was feeling a little more flustered than she thought she would be for no particular reason: At least there were lots of things to look at as distraction. Grabbing more leaflets, she began to look around the large store in greater detail.
Looking around for him.
It didn't take long, even with people crossing into and obscuring her field of vision. There he was, standing in the far corner, talking to someone, a customer probably. She could have watched him for hours, mapping him, as he gestured what was probably directions, before pointing out something in the pamphlet the other man was holding.
It suddenly hit her: he looked as though like he belonged in this place, and she knew with a horrible feeling that she didn't.
Perhaps she should go, just leave him be. This was a fool's errand of her own making.
She shouldn't be here, intruding on him like this.
Just leave him, the way he had left her and everyone else, without saying a word.
Turning around to get away, she was accosted by yet another employee, this time a woman –her name tag said 'Kelly'- asking with a warm smile if she could be of any assistance.
Well…it's now or never.
"Yes, I've got an appointment to see your manager," Samantha lied, willing her heart to stop beating so wildly and loudly. Surely this woman as well as everyone in the store could hear the deafening sound.
But obviously not as the woman just nodded. "I'll get him for you."
Samantha watched as 'Kelly' went over to where he was standing.
She watched as Kelly interrupted him.
Watched as the confusion washed over his face.
"Appointment?" she heard his voice faintly ask from her distance. Then she watched as Kelly nodded and pointed to her.
She felt his eyes pin her in place.
Oh, dear God…
It was her.
She was here.
… And somehow his heart sank and leapt at the same time.
Momentarily thrown off balance, he rallied. "Okay, yes, I may be awhile…" Courteously he turned to the gentleman he had been speaking to before the interruption. "Sir, I'll pass you on to Kelly and she can tell you more about the white water rafting trip -it really is great," he added, his attention already elsewhere.
The few steps he took to reach her could have been a mile.
She could only watch him approach and wait the excruciating seconds.
"We have an appointment," he stated neutrally, although his eyes were boring into hers with a horrified disbelief.
She tossed neutrality back at him. "Yes Mr. Boyd. I believe we do."
The store was busy with tourists so this was not the place. "We should get out of here," he said, taking hold of her upper arm firmly and leading her out.
"My car's right here-" she managed as he hustled her out the front door and down some steps.
"My turf, my jeep," he threw over his shoulder as Samantha trailed him along the sidewalk. Once at the old dusty army jeep branded with the store's name, he stood by the passenger side for her and watched as she climbed in, not offering to help.
It looked like something leftover from the tv show MASH. At least there was a safety belt. "Well…" she said ambivalently, watching him get in his side as she clicked it.
He shot her a look as he started the noisy engine. "Damn it, this is all wrong…You know that, Sam."
As much as she was thrilled to hear him use her name and that he was admittedly right, she decided to press on, undeterred. "Then you'll just have to deal with it."
Looking away as he pulled out into the road, he knew the open-airedness of the jeep and its racket would halt all further conversation.
Which was required as he needed to think.
What the hell has she done?
Did she have any idea?
Don't be stupid, he mentally castigated himself. She damn well knows exactly.
All Samantha could do was hold on, stop her hair from whipping around and wait for them to get wherever they were going. At least it was a beautiful spring day. Getting her sunglasses out of her satchel she decided to enjoy the view while he slowly simmered next to her, his scowl threatening to become permanent.
She risked a few covert glances at him, taking in the surprisingly slim and trim body that she'd never known he could attain; the grayest tinge to his hair she'd ever seen him with; the five o'clock shadow that he'd never have sported at the FBI. He was older, certainly –but then so was she- and he was wearing the years incredibly well. She hoped the same could be said for herself as she'd quietly turned forty a short time before.
He was steadfastly not looking in her direction, both hands gripping the wheel.
After an incredibly long -if picturesque- 15 minutes later of no talking, they turned off onto a road, then onto a dirt road and drove some way down it before stopping. He immediately jumped out of the jeep and went down a smaller track leading through the forest. Samantha knew to follow him, keeping him in sight as they skirted the trees. Making it to the stony bed beside the river, she watched as he marched to the water's edge and stood there, his back to her, hands shoved in his jeans' pockets.
Oh yes, he's angry all right.
She looked around; there were boulders to her left, the gentle winding river in front of her, more forest on the other side. Quite the lovely spot, deserted except for them. She could sit and wait for him to cool down, or just go for it. Walking over, she stood a couple of feet to one side of him. A sideways look ensured that his face was still stony. After a minute of scenery gazing, she thought she'd say something, something he wouldn't have heard in a long time.
That earned her a scorching glance.
This may be harder than I thought.
A new approach was needed.
"Is this where you come to dump bodies?" she asked flippantly. "Because it's quite a nice place to end up."
"No," he said levelly. She wasn't going away, that much he knew. "We've got a 2 o'clock catch and release group here today. Tick says this is where they're biting and I wanted to check it out. He's always spot-on." He kicked a stone into the water and walked a few paces away to look upriver.
"Postcard perfect," she remarked truthfully, still taking it all in.
"That's what we promise."
"'The Montana Outdoor Adventure Company'," Samantha stated. "I would never have thought that was your thing."
This time he picked a stone up and threw it into the water, taking a deep breath to calm himself as he watched it splash. "It wasn't, but needs must."
"It's a long way from New York."
Turning slightly at that, he gave her a look. "It's meant to be. That's the whole idea," he said in a condescending tone, but she was asking for it.
She knew she was, and carried on regardless. "No chance of Hawaii then? That would have been my first choice: the sun, the beaches..."
Rolling his eyes, he shook his head in disbelief. "If everyone in witness protection could choose where to go, then Hawaii would be over-run in a matter of minutes... They gave me the choice of Minnesota or here."
"Minnesota?" Oh dear God… "I think you made the right decision."
"I know I did." Now he fully faced her, hands on slim hips. "I didn't leave by choice. I wasn't running away. I was forced into it." He bit every sentence with emphasis.
"The Jack Malone I know would have done everything single thing in his power to get back, to fight against all that."
He looked away, his jaw set. "That Jack Malone is long gone; he disappeared years ago to protect himself and his family –as well as his colleagues," he added.
"I know," she acquiesced.
"Why are you here, Sam?" he asked quietly, searching her face, which he never thought he'd see again.
She had rehearsed the simple line many times. "Because I wanted to see you."
It sounded so pathetic now.
Staring at her plaintive declaration, he then rubbed his forehead in aggravation. "But if you found me, then the cartel could find me… You've put me and everything I've built here at risk, Sam. I'm going to have to get in touch with my damn handler and get him to move me –all because of you." His voice had risen loudly by the end of the sentence.
"Don't be so dramatic; it won't come to that."
"I've taken the utmost precautions. No one knows where I am –they think I'm visiting my mother in Wisconsin. Here in Missoula I'm not even Samantha Spade FBI, because according to my fake ID, I'm Hayley Reynolds, sales rep for an outdoor equipment supply company."
Something amused Jack momentarily, despite his anger. "'Hayley'?" he scoffed.
"I didn't have a choice -and it's better than yours, Mr. Chester Boyd. I thought the Marshals gave new names with the same initials, or that you got to keep your first name."
"Yeah well, they decided to completely wipe the slate and start afresh for me." Although he had John as his middle name, a token reminder of his past.
"They certainly did." When it came to witness protection, the US Marshals knew exactly how to make a person vanish. "It's a rare thing for an FBI agent to go into witness protection."
"But not unheard of…" He looked away again, to calm himself. The river always worked for him. "How's the team?" A safe question he felt, and he did want to know.
"I can't honestly say. I haven't spoken to any of them in a while."
"Things changed after you left the way you did; everything was strange, derailed. Vivian tried her best to keep us all but…" she trailed off, remembering how everyone had gone somewhere else, except Vivian who had a new team. Samantha had been the first to go. "I'm now in the Mafia division of Organized Crime."
The surprised look on his face was genuine. "Huh?"
Stepping towards him on the stones, she knew she had to give her reasons. "Once I decided to find you, I managed a transfer. I needed to go after the remains of the drug syndicate to make sure they weren't on a long term agenda to still get you and to cause them to distrust each other rather than focusing on you. I had to make sure you were safe before I could find out where you were," she said, making it seem like the most natural thing to do in the world. "I didn't just work it out and jump on the first plane here, okay? It's taken me five years to do this, Jack -five years," she emphasized. "I've been careful to the point of paranoia. I'm the only person aside from the US Marshals who knows who and where you are. I knew you were here a whole three months ago; I've been making sure of things, organizing."
Jack was frankly aghast at this information. There was something about her, a look of obsession in her eye, with the obsession being him. He knew she could be driven when it came to work, but he didn't like this; he wasn't even sure he knew the woman standing in front of him after all this time.
"No Sam, you didn't have the right to make that decision, to come here and throw all that at me."
"I had every right-"
"No, I don't care how damn long it's taken you -if you found me, then they could too-"
"No!" She just didn't understand. "You should have left me alone!"
Then he took a few more steps away from her before turning around again.
"I'm happy here and happy with who I am. Just let me go." He was amazed at how calm he sounded right there and then; he certainly didn't feel it.
Watching him walk away from her along the riverbank, she could have called out his name –his real name. She could have shouted something to get the last word in.
He just doesn't get it.
But she just stood, and watched the man she knew she still loved stride away, feeling the last five years of focus slip away from her. She could wait for him to return, but then what? That stubborn Jack Malone streak hadn't changed, even with a different name.
She looked back toward the woods they'd come through and then back at Jack's retreating back.
To hell with this.
Grabbing her satchel from the jeep, she then kicked a tire out of frustration before setting off the way they had come.
Christ, she couldn't believe him. It wasn't as if she was the beginning of the cavalry coming to raid the place. She'd been meticulous and he made her feel like a bumbling gumshoe.
She found a decent sized stick and decided to use it to swipe at the tall grass as she stomped along the track, wishing more than ever that she hadn't come.
I'm a stupid idiot…
She hadn't counted on him being so… so… hostile towards her. Happily surprised was what she'd thought he'd be, after any initial shock had worn off. Perhaps even impressed at her tenacity, but not like that.
She beat at some more grass as she walked, wiping away yet another tear that had run down her cheek as an old pick-up truck rounded a corner and hurtled past her.
Damn allergy. It had to be all the spring pollen. She couldn't possibly be crying tears for him.
She hadn't even gotten to tell him a couple things that he should know.
All this time, all these years, all this damned effort, all for nothing.
She knew it was a long way back into town but she'd sure as hell make it there and leave Chester Fucking Boyd to himself.
The end of the dirt track wasn't far ahead. More long, innocent grass fell victim to the swing of her stick.
After walking a way downriver, his mind was still fomenting with the knowledge of what she'd done. Why she'd done it was still lost on him.
'Because I wanted to see you' -what kind of half-assed reasoning was that?
He let out a loud grunt of frustration as he halted. How could she have possibly kept him in mind for five years? What did she want -gratitude?
Jack knew he should return to face her, so he turned around with teeth gritted. He started back presuming to find her sitting and waiting on a boulder, her eyes and face still hard and edgy with purpose. That had disturbed him.
But no, he looked around when returning, she wasn't here. She would be no doubt in the jeep -and she could damn well wait. He hunkered down by the river's edge and looked into the clear, cold water. There was a twig by his boot, so he broke it into little pieces and set them floating off.
At least he could think in the stillness this place had.
So much for that. He looked around at the voice, knowing it well. It was old Tick, making his way across the stones in his bowlegged way, like a gnarly old crab.
"Surprised to see you here," Tick said, making it to Jack's side. He put down the fishing equipment he was carrying and looked around, much like Jack did earlier. "So, you think this is the best spot for today?"
Jack stood up. "You said it was, so it must be."
"Damn right I'm right…" Tick nodded, squinting up at the sun over the tall trees. Tick knew what he was doing, which is why Jack had hired him; he'd been lucky in that as Tick had always refused to work for any of the outdoor activity businesses, but they'd gotten on well when they'd met by chance at the river four years ago. "Are you coming with the group today? I tied some new flies last night which you may find interesting."
Shaking his head, Jack knew he should, but…"I was going to, but something's come up. I'll send someone else along."
"Okay. I'm staying here to keep the spot and get some quiet time in before the learners arrive and upset the fish. Rona's at home scrap-booking so I've got plenty of time... You still all right for poker tomorrow night?"
"I'll try not to miss it. I need to win some of my money back off Rona."
"Hah! You, me and everyone else." Tick looked over at the other man and then behind him at the trees a moment, considering something. Picking up one of his fishing rods, he scrutinized it for a moment. "By the way, you anything to do with that woman walking back along the track?" he asked casually, but with deliberance.
Okay, not in the jeep. "Yep…" Jack reluctantly admitted.
"You know her?"
"She's a sales rep," he replied using Samantha's cover.
"Ah…" Tick understood. "Pushy gal, was she?"
"Far from it… But unfortunately she reminded me of someone from my past."
"She looked pretty upset." Tick may have been old, but his eyesight was still fairly good as he'd driven past her.
Nodding guiltily, Jack wasn't surprised at hearing that. "I was a bit tough on her, I suppose."
Tick mulled this over for a few moments before rounding on Jack. "Now son, that's not nice. There's no need to upset a lady and have her go off like that in tears."
"I'm sure she'll get over it," Jack said more carelessly than he meant; she certainly hadn't been crying when he'd walked away from her.
This did not go down well with Tick. "Chester Boyd, I bet your momma didn't raise you to be like that. Now stop being such a shit-head and go get her. It's a helluva way back to town and it's getting hot."
"Look, she decided to-"
"Shut the hell up and get going," Tick stabbed the air with a knobby finger, "or I'll kick your ass so hard your goddamned fillings will pop out."
"Okay, okay." Jack raised his hands in surrender, backing away. "You kiss your wife with that mouth?"
"More often than you credit me for, now get –and leave me alone with my fish!"
She heard the noisy jeep long before it pulled up beside her, and hastily wiped her cheeks dry.
"Get in," he yelled. Jeeps were never made for quiet conversations, certainly not this one.
"Go away," she yelled back, trying to find her sunglasses in her satchel to hide her puffy eyes.
He accelerated and pulled in ahead of her, not quite blocking her way. "It's a long walk back. Get in," he repeated.
Although tempted to throw her stick at him, she instead flung it back towards the trees. She got in the jeep, shoved on her glasses and let her body language make it clear she wasn't happy about it.
"Where are you staying?" he asked loudly as they started off again.
"Happy Trails motel."
He nodded, knowing it well enough; he'd picked up and dropped off clients from there.
"Tell me," he said after a few silent minutes of driving, "who gave you my name and location?"
"I'm not saying."
Definitely best Jack wasn't to know. The ways and means would have to be locked away, never, ever to be revealed.
After she'd been satisfied the drug cartel was well and truly washed up, and their revenge evaporated, the next stage in her plan was that she had to get hold of a US Marshal. Obviously, Organized Crime had a lot to do with them and she'd dealt with them several times already, so it wasn't hard to find a case that led her there once more. It definitely wasn't going to be one of the agents that had dealt with Jack in the drug case years before, and she knew which ones they were. No, someone else was needed, someone who would have appropriate file access and be willing to give her the information. It had taken some time but Samantha had found him –in his late forties, newly divorced, disillusioned, vulnerable and not unattractive. A 'chance' meeting out of work was made to further gauge his interest, some flirting over drinks and later a dinner together. There was some needful making out to lead him on and then a request of what she wanted him to do, the name to be given if he agreed. She made it clear to him what was on offer for the information and it wasn't money, and no, she assured him the info wasn't to be used for revenge. He gave it some thought over the next day, agreed and she told him who she was exactly looking for. Two anxious days for her later, he'd phoned to say he knew Jack's new identity. They'd met in a hotel that afternoon for several hours of (albeit Viagra-fuelled) sex. Safe sex at that –she made sure of it.
Yes, she'd felt like a bit of whore but this was a means to an end -although she'd needed the very enjoyable release. It had felt good to be wanton and thoroughly fucked. The last part of their transaction was finalized while Samantha was lying worn out in bed, trying not to be fretful that he might renege on their deal. He'd put on his shoes and had leaned down, whispering what she needed to know: Chester Boyd, Missoula.
If she and the agent ever did cross paths again, it would be with a most pleasant memory; besides, they had enough information about each other to cause a stalemate. The man had then left and Samantha was happy and relieved that now she was now the closest to Jack she had been for years. Nevertheless, slowness, stealth and planning were still required.
She'd never searched for Chester Boyd on the FBI computers –didn't dare to and wasn't stupid enough to try. In fact –after some thought- a simple call from a pay phone to the chatty Missoula information center supplied most of the details early on -as they'd booked trips for his business.
And then she'd gone out and had her hair blonded again, so she'd look more like she used to, the way Jack probably remembered her most. Her all-male team had thoroughly approved.
It had been a long time but it had come together nicely, all those months back.
Jeeps weren't as comfortable as Samantha had thought, squirming in her seat. "Don't ask me again," she said, succinctly.
Jack concentrated on the road; he knew she could keep secrets. Deep ones.
They were quiet again until Jack pulled into the motel, Samantha pointed out that she was in number eight and Jack stopped the jeep in front of it.
He turned in his seat to talk, but she was already out with her motel keys in hand. "Sam, wait..." She halted and pulled off her shades to look at him with wounded eyes. "Look, I didn't ask to be found... You've seen me, I'm alive and well. You need to go back to New York, go be with Brian and Finn and forget this whole 'wanting to see me' thing."
"I didn't come here to persuade you to come back to New York or screw up your life, Jack," she pointed out, hoping her voice wouldn't fail her. "Far from it." Turning away from him, she unlocked the door and went inside. Leaning against the almost slammed door, she held her breath until she heard Jack drive away.
Go back to Brian?
Not a chance in hell.