A/N: Thanks to those who are still reading this, and those that take the time to review. I know it's been awhile but RL just comes along and messes everything up. The funny thing is this chapter was about 95% done for quite some time and only took a little bit of writing to finish. Big hugs to my lovely beta Mariel, who lost all her initial edits and had to re-do them! And for those who keep prodding and nagging me, you know I need it.
This chapter doesn't have much action and it's a lot of dialogue, but when you write something that has 5 years of backstory to cover, this is what you get. One more chapter after this and an epilogue.
Disclaimer: Seriously, does CBS and Warner Bros really care anymore?
Out of the Blue
Nature -some places have more of it than others, and this place certainly had a lot.
Looking at the view while firmly standing with her two feet back on the solid earth again, Samantha was impressed: Missoula itself was spread out in the near distance, the grass around them was a vivid green, the air clean and fresh, the sky crystal blue with high wispy clouds.
Jack returned from tending the horses under a tree. "There's a shady spot over there." He gestured towards a larger tree, before walking over and sitting himself down on the grass. Hank had given them a couple of bottles of water and he in turn gave one to Samantha as she seated herself next to him.
Making herself comfortable as best she could, she then ferreted around in her ever-present satchel. "I think I have some M&Ms…"
Jack wasn't surprised; he'd seen the candy wrappers littering her bed in the motel room. Chocolate and candy were always Samantha's go-to in times of personal crisis.
This certainly counted as one.
Needing something himself, he took the proffered packet, wondering what to say.
So far he'd easily filled in the time during their ride by doing his automatic tourist guide-thing -pausing only to take group update texts from Kelly- and pointing out various sights, scenery and facts along the way as a running commentary before coming to his favorite spot.
Samantha had been impressed at how much he knew about the place and had complimented him on it; she had to admit that her own Montanan knowledge was next to zero.
Throwing a few M&Ms into his mouth, Jack thought as he chewed. Stuff about the drug cartel could wait for later. Starting with himself might be a good subject, and he knew she was more than curious, but there was something else he needed to say first. "I'm sorry about before, by the river… I was harsh on you."
She gave a small smile. "It's okay. I should have realized the effect of turning up like that."
"Surprises are one thing –shocks are another. I can only handle so much… You look good, by the way," he said truthfully.
"Thank you." She was pleased. "You too."
"Of course -it's never changed."
Smiling at each other, they were both glad that had been settled.
Jack pulled off his shades and tucked them into his shirt pocket. "You should get to know Chester Boyd –he's a nice guy."
Gratified that he was taking that conversational direction, she took off her sunglasses as well. "Really? Tell me about him."
"Oh, he's pretty laid-back; a lot of people seem to like him. He goes with the flow all while making his business succeed –and he works hard at that."
"What –like some new and improved Jack Malone?" she ventured. "There was nothing wrong with the old one." In my knowledgeable opinion.
"Perhaps, but he had his flaws and faults. Not everyone gets the chance to start fresh, to reinvent themselves. I mean, look at this place!" he waved his hand out at the view.
"But not everyone wants to start over," she countered. It was odd talking about Jack in the past tense with Jack himself sitting scant inches away.
He could tell she wasn't impressed. "Look Sam, I'm sorry all this happened. One minute I'm investigating a missing person, the next I'm caught up against the bosses of a drug cartel with all the shit involved." He hadn't taken being intimidated late at night by strange men and mail threats all that seriously, but others had, and they'd been higher up the chain at the FBI.
"That's what you got for going rogue," she said, pointing out the obvious.
Jack shrugged reflectively. He knew going off on his own cases had been a way of withdrawing; he'd felt that need after Hannah had left, and after he and Samantha had broken apart. "I feel I've paid for it, believe me –for all the chance to start again."
"It was awful Jack, you just went into protective custody so fast for so long, then there was the trial… I tried to see you in court on those days when you were scheduled to appear, but they were closed sessions."
"I didn't expect any of you to be allowed in." He remembered being escorted into the courtroom, and finding it empty of onlookers. "But any familiar face would have been welcome." He'd felt curiously small and isolated, sitting there, being bombarded with questions, feeling a lack of his accustomed control.
Squishing a red M&M between her thumb and forefinger until it cracked, Samantha stared at it while she spoke, remembering. "The last time I saw you, it was in the morning when we went off looking for a suspect –the Bellingham case- and you stayed behind. You said you were following up things on your own case, even though we knew you should've left it alone." It was all indelibly imprinted in her memory. "We got back before lunch, you were gone and Olczyk was waiting for us… and that was that. There were strange agents packing up your office." She looked at him. "You disappeared from our lives like one of our missing persons."
As if Jack hadn't also replayed it in his head a million times, leaving his office under escort, practically being frog-marched out. "I know… And it was tough, being cooped up in various hotel rooms, not being able to contact anyone, not going anywhere." It was the lack of contact with his daughters he found he'd missed the most.
"Did you lash out?"
His brown eyes looked at her steadily. Yes, she knows me all right. "I'll admit to trashing a rather nice hotel room one night. The two guys looking after me had to hold me down."
"I bet -you and your temper, but justified, I'd say." She couldn't imagine it herself, being cut off from everyone and those you loved. Just like a prisoner.
Jack carried on. "It was Max, the older guy. He sat me down in the debris and actually quoted something by Picasso, of all people: When it comes right down to it, all you have is yourself. And he was right. I wasn't going to get out of it, I had to accept what was going to happen, and I just had to look after me." He pulled his legs up and rested his arms on his knees. "And you know what? I honestly didn't think I'd be missed."
Samantha's jaw almost dropped. "What?"
"Everyone was busy with their own lives," Jack explained. "My girls had their mother; at least Hanna had already returned to Chicago months before, and the Marshals brokered a deal: if I went in the program, Maria and the girls would be spared going into hiding. They were to keep an eye on them for a long while. And of course, I knew the team could function without me and you…" He paused then, considering. "You were happy with Finn and his father. No-one's irreplaceable-"
"In a business sense, yes –but personally…"
"People get used to things," Jack pressed. "I just figured my absence wouldn't be missed so much, and like I said, since I had to accept it, others would too."
Samantha had to look away as she took a deep breath. The thought that Jack could just give it all up and think he wouldn't leave a gap in anyone's life… She'd been staggered by his forced leaving. It had been a shock, as if he'd been suddenly struck dead. But then in a short space of time, she had been so busy with work, her new thing with Brian and of course, Finn.
Until it had all come crashing down months later.
"Are you okay?" she heard Jack ask.
She nodded, then tried to swallow the lump in her throat with a swig of water. She cleared her throat to speak again. "Did… did you really think no-one would want to find you? Someone you knew?" Someone like me?
He was rather dismayed at her words. "No –why would I expect anyone to do that?" he asked, self-effacingly, honest confusion on his features.
Not having an answer to that, she indicated to him to keep talking.
He wondered if something was bothering her, but continued on. "Before we'd even settled on Montana, Max helped me figure out what I should or could do, job-wise, before my handler was assigned. I had to hit the ground running when I got here, I didn't want to just do nothing or feel sorry for myself. If I were going to have a new life, I decided I had to get into it as soon as possible. The outdoors thing seemed a good idea -running trips for tourists and locals –and it has been. I may not be the most outdoorsy guy in the world, but the trick was to initially employ people who were and learn from them. It's taken awhile but I've got a thriving little business down there," he said, a modicum of pride in his voice as he pointed in the business' general direction below them.
Samantha processed the information while she finished off her candy, still disbelieving he had been so accommodating of his fate. As she'd said by the river, she'd imagined him fighting against the decision to the last –one wrecked hotel room didn't seem nearly enough.
Jack could always dumbfound her.
He was examining the label on his water bottle. "One thing I can't figure out was why they thought I was their star witness."
"But you were, and it worked: your testimony put those two crime bosses away."
"I didn't think I'd been privy to enough information about their drug dealing, all because I was looking for a missing girl."
"It's curious how things turn out."
"Yes, and she's safe now." He thought of something. "You said you hadn't seen the team for awhile."
"Well, it's one of those losing touch things."
"But you do know what they're actually doing."
Nodding, Samantha knew this was an easy answer. "Vivian got your job, of course, and works pretty well with Olczyk, by all accounts. She got to choose our replacements over time and she has a pretty good team. Martin is doing something with the Bureau in DC-"
"Following in Victor's footsteps, I guess."
"Scary but true. He was always going to end up doing something like that, no matter how much he'd deny it. And Danny and Elena have got two under-fives –a boy and a girl. Elena's at home probably wishing she was back at work and Danny finally got admitted to the bar."
"Good for him!"
"The DA's office snapped him up; he's been doing a lot of good."
"That sounds like him… Well, well…" Nodding, Jack was contemplative. "You weren't kidding when you said things had changed -and all that started when I went into protective custody? I suppose it was stupid to think things would go on forever, staying the same."
"Perhaps it's a measure of your worth."
Jack shrugged, not knowing whether to believe it or not of himself. The idea of his team breaking up was bitter-sweet: sad they had dispersed, great that they were doing so well. He took another sip of water. "So, who are you working with?"
"Lincoln McGovern, really?" Jack was clearly impressed. "He's a tough bastard. How did you do that?"
"I didn't give him much choice, he liked the work I'd done in Missing Persons, and he knew I'd had a good boss in you. It was actually because I'd worked with you for so long that he took me on."
"I do know he wasn't pleased I'd inadvertently stepped into his field of expertise," he said, finishing off the last of his candy and tucking the wrapper into his jeans' pocket. "And Linc always has the best in his crew,"
She took the praise. "He's not stupid either; he figured out several months in that I was going after the cartel."
"And what did he do?"
"He called me into his office –I thought he was going to kick my ass- but he questioned my methods, congratulated me, and told me to keep up the good work. He said that he admired my single mindedness and the less bad guys around, the better for everyone." All in all, it had been a weird meeting. McGovern had sat behind his desk like a large lizard, with eyes that seemed to know much more than he was letting on. "Linc knew I was doing it for revenge for you, but he didn't know what my ultimate aim was," she finished, looking at him.
He could feel her eyes on her, but he didn't look back. The horses whickered and he turned his attention to them before speaking.
"Why the concern, Sam? Why are you risking everything just to see me one more time? I mean, you have your family… How old is Finn now, anyway?"
Samantha stopped picking at some grass beside her. "Seven."
"Really? …" Time does fly when children are growing up. He knew that from his own daughters. "What's he like?"
"I have a photo," she said, pulling one out of her satchel. "He's not blonde anymore," she reflected, sadly.
Jack looked at the picture of mother and son. "Woah, he's grown and I have to say, he looks a lot like Brian."
"Yes, he certainly does." For my sins. Samantha was way past the similarity after all these years.
"But I can see a bit of you in his features. Here and here," he said, pointing them out.
"Thanks, and as for his personality, he's too clever and precocious for his own good, and at school he loves math."
"That's a good skill to have early," he said, handing the photo back to her.
"How about Hanna and Kate?"
"I'm allowed to contact the Government once a year, they give me letters from them and I send them news and personal stuff which is carefully vetted before being handed over."
"Hmm, I'm sure you've found a way to keep in contact them."
"Not at all -once a year, that's it," Jack lied through his teeth.
Three years back, he'd managed to cajole his handler into letting him go to a week long outdoors convention-expo in Portland. For two days he played the part of interested attendee, and managed to do some business. He knew his handler would have checked the hotel reservations for names, but he was smarter than that. The third day he went to a payphone in the city and startled Maria with a call at her office in Chicago. He told her to get the girls on a flight as soon as possible and for them to stay at a particular hotel under certain names. There was no arguing about it. Within 24 hours Jack was reunited with his daughters for 3 days. Their fake email accounts were set up using a random netcafe and Facebook accounts were opened thereafter. Jack and his daughters had been catching up with each other weekly when Jack used the PCs at the backpackers hostel –which he happened to own part of.
But he wasn't going to tell Samantha any of that.
"How did you manage it all, Jack?" she asked, sliding the photo back into her satchel. "I doubt I could have done what you did –leave everything and everyone behind." She just couldn't leave it alone.
Concentrating on his hands, Jack knew there had been a few dark times, usually dealt with by a whisky bottle. He was long past them now –his daughters had eased that- but it hadn't been the emotional smooth sailing he liked it to sound. The first dark time had happened a couple of months after his arrival, he didn't remember anything at all and the blackout had scared him. The second time was when he'd been in Missoula for nearly a year. Feeling lonely and down, he'd wandered over to meet Warren, the owner of the backpackers that he eventually became a silent partner of. They'd talked over a few drinks in the bar next door, and then somehow Jack had woken the next morning in his own bed with a searing hangover, and a naked 27 year old German woman wrapped around him like a serpent. Her name was Jutta, she had long blonde hair, light brown eyes and even through the pain in his head, he noticed the resemblance to Samantha immediately. Jutta had decided that she was staying with him, much to his initial bewilderment. Whatever, he'd thought, needing the company, and just went with the flow. Jutta did her fair share of cooking, cleaning and initiating sex -all the while still living out of her backpack. Then one morning six weeks later, she announced she was going to Alaska, kissed him and left. Years later, he didn't know what to make of it all, but considering the number of lonely men in Alaska, he knew she'd have landed on her feet.
"Work keeps me busy," he said, not wanting to give away anything. "I like it that way. How about you?"
"The same: me, Finn and work also. It's enough." Nearly enough.
He noticed she skipped over Brian. Perhaps they were having problems, which was entirely normal in any relationship.
"Did you ever think of me, Jack?" she asked quietly, hating herself for asking.
"Well, to tell the truth…" he began, wanting to choose his words carefully and then just giving up, "Not much. With sad regret at what could have been, perhaps." It was the truth.
"Ah…" Not the answer she wanted.
"I couldn't live in the past, Sam. The only way I can survive day-to-day is to move forward. Like I said, Jack Malone and his life have gone."
She admonished herself for being stupid.
Of course he wasn't lying there in bed through the long nights, aching for want of him.
She'd gone out on dates, for sure, and even had a few one nighters. But the guys hadn't been right. They weren't as handsome as Jack, or their eyes weren't the same hazel color, or they weren't as funny, or their voice didn't have that velvety quality his had. Having them over at her place was not an option and she didn't want to hang around at theirs, preferring to get home to Finn as soon as the deed was done. Once she'd figured out that she had been comparing them to Jack -and each and every one had been found wanting- she'd not bothered anymore. Work and her son kept her busy. The Marshal at the hotel had been the first in a long, long time.
Having had enough of the mountain and revelations, Samantha suddenly got up. "I need coffee," she announced.
Smiling as he got up, Jack knew that some things would never change.
After taking off the bridles and saddles, and taking care of the horses –definitely a first for Samantha- they were just saying their thanks and goodbyes to Hank when Jack spotted one of his staff and the group he'd been guiding coming back from their trek. Excusing himself from Samantha, he went over for a catch up.
While waiting for him, she watched the ease in which he stood talking, finally content in his own skin these days, whereas she knew inside she'd become a fixated hard-ass. It hadn't been her intention, but over the time it had become second nature: deal to that pack of criminals to make Jack safe, to let her find him.
Still, she could still change the way she'd become, loosen up, become the Samantha from the past again. She couldn't do it here in Montana, but she had plans for the future, for herself and for her son; plans that weren't finalized as yet, but were definitely real and she was committed to.
Scoring the dirt with the heel of her boot absently-mindedly, she knew something needed to be said about Brian; Jack was still working off a five year old agenda –that she was still with him playing happy families.
And that agenda was just plain wrong.
Jack returned, apologizing about keeping her waiting. Watching as he opened his car door while she stood by the passenger side, Samantha took a deep breath. "Look, as for Brian…"
Pausing, he looked over the car at her, not particularly wanting to hear about him, but at the same time curious about what she was about to say. "…Yeah?"
Deep breath. "About four months after you left I walked in on him screwing Finn's babysitter on the couch."
There it was, out in the open; her shame and failure at it all.
Jack was stunned and appalled. He closed his car door and walked around to her. "Oh, Sam…" Then a scary thought –and vision- occurred to him. "What, your babysitter, the older woman –Maricella?"
"No! … No, not her…" It shouldn't hurt to tell him about it, it was so long ago and she was over it, but… "It was much worse than that; she was a neighbor's daughter who would help us out. Jesus, we'd even been at her parents' place for her birthday party, giving her a gift two days before –when she happen to turn legal. I didn't realize Brian was planning on his own, more personal present." She risked a glance at him. "And yes, please feel free to say 'I told you so'. I've said it enough times to myself that you'd warned me about his prior." Shoving her hands in her back pockets, she looked away and over to the mountain they'd just been up.
Her face clearly reflected the pain she still felt at the betrayal, and Jack wasn't going to crow.
Far from it.
"After I gave you that information about him, you took his word for it -but you never talked to the girl concerned," he stated.
She shook her head. "I was an idiot, willing to believe anything he said I guess, him being Finn's father and all that. Anyway, I kicked him out as fast as he could pull up his pants, made the girl's parents come and get her, then I had a serious talk with them all… Then I cried, cleaned the place, gave away the couch to Goodwill the next day and cried some more… During all that time she was there, Finn had been sleeping in his room. How Brian could do that while his son was close by…" It still sickened her.
Jack somehow didn't feel elated that Brian was well and truly gone -as he definitely would have been once upon a time. Knowing it had been hard for her to tell him, "I'm sorry," was all he could say.
Sniffing back some dry tears, she opened her car door. "Why? It had nothing to do with you. It all happened after you left…. But, it was after Finn's second birthday, Brian had been gone a month. I was sitting there in my lonely apartment with my little boy and it just struck me-"
He waited, wondering what she would say next.
"I realized that I'd lost my best friend," she looked at him pointedly. "Not him, you... You were always there for me, one way or another, either at work or personally, and… I messed it up. Absolutely and utterly. So that's when I decided to help you."
"By finding me," he clarified.
"Yes, I wanted to get those bastards who put you here, so you'd be safe, even if you didn't know, even if it did take years, even if I didn't find you."
Jack stated the obvious, "But you did."
Nodding, she looked at him proudly. "I totally did. That whole gang has gone."
"And all because you wanted to see me," he finished for her.
"Yes," she said, as honestly and truthfully as she could.
Jack stared back at her, their eyes locked.
Not really thinking of anything to add, he lightly touched Samantha's shoulder in understanding, like he used to do.
She was grateful for that, and covered his hand with hers.
"I think we need that coffee now," he said quietly.