She's mingling, making sure she's seen by a select few, reminding one person of a certain obligation that needs to be paid back sooner rather than later. This isn't a fun evening out, and even elegant night clubs like this one can feel mundane when she's there to work. After finishing what she hopes is her last conversation, she sits at the bar: corner stool, an unapproachable look on her face. Zoe knows the bartender; he brings over a gin and tonic when she signals him.
Someone ignores her body language and sits next to her. Male, tall, wearing a suit and tie... and familiar.
"Hello, John," she says.
"Zoe," he replies; his voice is quiet, intimate. "Mind if I join you?"
Instead of snapping at him, Zoe lightly shrugs. "Am I in trouble?" she finally asks.
"No more than usual, I assume," he says, an eyebrow raised in her direction.
He orders a whiskey and takes a carefully-measured sip. Zoe glances at his ID before he puts it away: John Rousseau. Undoubtedly an alias.
His presence seems an unlikely coincidence. "Did you know I'd be here?" she asks. He doesn't respond to the question, which is enough of an answer. I'm going to have to put a stop to that, she thinks. Not now, though. Raised voices aren't part of the image she maintains. She settles for a raised eyebrow instead.
He looks down for a moment and then says, "Drinking alone is a luxury I can't afford now." It's an unexpected admission. With a small smile he adds, "But I'm a good social drinker."
"You tracked me down just to have someone to watch you drink?" She keeps her voice low but the tone is incredulous.
"Well, when you put it that way-"
She interrupts. "Buy me another of these," she tells him, her hands wrapped around the glass of gin and tonic. "And you'd better not be lying."
"About being a good social drinker."
He's not that good, though he's not bad either. As they talk, John looks around the club, checking each new patron. He's discreet about it but Zoe's spent time with people in power; they're surrounded by men who move like this, assessing the scene for potential risk.
John slowly rations his drinks. They chat and he says nothing truly personal. He didn't grow up in New York City. They've both traveled to Paris and prefer Madrid. From the way he pronounces the names of certain landmarks, she guesses that he speaks Spanish; not that unusual a skill, however. Even after a couple more drinks he's careful with what he reveals.
Hard to miss some of what he isn't saying; John with the uncertain last name hasn't had a good day. He's trying hard to be charming in spite of that. It works well enough in conjunction with his face (entirely acceptable) and those blue eyes (more than acceptable). Zoe feels more balanced around him now than at their first meeting; digging up information about Elias last week when he'd called and asked for help let her feel like a piece of the debt she owed him had been erased.
Not that he would see it that way. Zoe doubts that a man who goes around saving lives keeps an account for what he's owed by them; another element that charms her. It's not how she normally interacts with people.
They stop talking for a few minutes to listen to the music; the jazz trio plays an intriguing number and John is truly at ease for the first time. Probably a combination of the alcohol, the music and the lack of new patrons to evaluate at this late hour.
She smiles at the music and then notices him staring at her mouth for a moment. Her breath catches; it's been a long time since she had the luxury of dealing with attraction as just that-attraction and not a tool for leverage. They're both unlikely to seek more than a fleeting connection because they have too much invested in what they do.
After one more round of drinks she states, "So you're not here to talk or to get drunk."
John gives her a questioning look. "This isn't talking?" He looks slightly abashed as he says it; they both know how many topics he's avoided this evening.
She laughs quietly. "Want to get out of here?" she asks, lowering her voice and touching his hand.
"To do something illegal?" he asks.
"There might still be a few laws on the books but I doubt we'll be prosecuted," she replies.
Her new driver's name is Mark. He seems discreet enough but Zoe has always tried to avoid additional reasons for a driver to gossip. After she and John get in the back seat, she sits primly near the door and asks a bland question. "So what's your favorite part of the city?"
He leans back, long legs slightly cramped by the front car seat, and starts talking about MOMA and concerts at the Kennedy Center. Zoe relaxes when she sees that John is following her lead. After removing her high heels, she slides her bare feet onto the middle seat, shifting so that her back is against the car door. John's voice is a low rumble in the dark; city lights flash through the windows, red and white lighting up their faces.
John leads toward her, touching her ankle. She glances at him; keeping eye contact with her, he pulls one of her feet toward him. He pushes his thumbs into the arch of her foot and then slides his fingers up, massaging the ball of her foot.
Zoe looks at the rear-view mirror. Mark can't see anything other than John leaning toward her. She lets herself relax, closing her eyes. Earlier she was wearing her highest pair of heels; the muscles in her feet are cramped. Each pass of his thumbs and fingers alternates from painful to soothing and oh, is he ever good with his hands.
John is almost done with one foot when she realizes he asked her something. "I'm sorry, what?" she says, opening her eyes again to look at him.
"I said, so what's your favorite part of the city?" She catches a brief glimpse of a tiny smirk on his face. Normally it would annoy her but not now. "All of it," she snaps, and pushes her other foot toward his hands; closing her eyes again, she leans her head against the window.
He laughs quietly and starts rubbing the sole of that foot.
The ride to her home goes by quickly. She settles up with Mark; John waits for her and walks her to her door in silence. He looms over her now that they're not both sitting and she's not wearing her heels. She'd forgotten just how tall he was.
He looks relaxed, serene even. Do covert super-heroes have training to send out an 'I'm harmless' signal?Zoe wonders. He didn't come across like this two weeks ago. She pauses for a moment. Taking someone home isn't usually an impulsive choice for her.
John doesn't miss her hesitation. Cocking his head to one side, he tells her, "Your call."
Unlocking her door, she says, "Come in, John."
Her living room: she loves the clean lines, the lack of clutter. At her gesture, John sits on her couch. Walking over to her stereo, she picks a record from her collection and starts playing it.
"Guess who the musician is," she orders on a whim.
He listens for a moment, head tilted back and eyes closed. "Sam Rivers?" he says, his voice doubtful.
"Joe Henderson," she tells him. She stands there for a moment, listening to the bluesy notes, and then realizes she's nervous, stalling. Zoe Morgan doesn't let herself stay flustered by anyone, and he looks too good sitting on her couch to stay away from him anyway. So she walks over and climbs onto his lap, straddling him.
"Time for this to go," she murmurs, and unknots his tie, pulling it free.
"If you say so," he replies. Her action trips a switch; the impassive face is gone again. His eyes crinkle at the corners as he hides a small smile. For a moment his hands flutter in the air, like he's not certain what to do with them. Then he puts them on her thighs, pushing her skirt up slightly.
"Did you catch me checking out your legs that first day we met?" he asks her.
She huffs a breath out in surprise at the question. "No, but possibly I was distracted by everything else that happened."
He runs his hands up and down slightly, tracing the muscles that she has worked so hard to maintain. Such warm fingers, she thinks.
"They're very nice legs," he adds. His voice is a quiet rasp; the sound of it makes her wants to kiss him, so she does. His lips are warm, too; he gives the same meticulous attention to kissing her back as he does to everything.
He presses his tongue against hers while one of his hands slides to the small of her back, tracing her spine. She nips at his lip and licks it in a soothing pattern, then kisses him again, open-mouthed. They stay almost immobile, exploring the textures of skin, teeth and tongues.
She has to stop kissing him to breathe for a moment; he smells of whiskey and faint traces of soap. Her breasts press against his chest as they both breathe in. "This is nice," she says, surprising herself with the awkward simplicity of the statement. The blood must be leaving her brain already for her to use a bland word like nice to describe this.
He chuckles quietly. "Yeah," he says. "I have to tell you something."
She waits; after a second he admits, "It's been a while."
"Okay." After a moment she adds, "I'll try and be gentle."
His eyes crinkle again; she really likes that look on him, amused and free of worries. "Also, I don't have any condoms."
That's surprising. "I do," she tells him.
He nods once and then leans toward her again; this time he kisses his way along her jaw and neck, tracing a line down the tendons. She squirms as he reaches the sensitive skin right above her collarbone.
"Too much?" he asks?
"Yes," she gasps, "but keep doing that." She reaches for his shirt and starts to undo the buttons.
Nice is now thoroughly inadequate; his tongue and hands are making her skin tingle. From his reactions to her, he's feeling the same way. Her skirt is hiked up to her hips, her bra undone and her hair tangled. His jacket is off, his shirt is unbuttoned and she's reaching for the belt he's wearing. "Bedroom?" he asks, voice hoarse.
She nods and starts to show him which way. Instead he grabs her ass, picks her up and carries her there, smiling at her surprised yelp.
He's pleased that she's a vocal lover; John has never objected to taking direction from a partner.
"That was fun," she says, voice even huskier than normal. Her hair is spread across the sheets like a wild halo.
"As much fun as breaking and entering?" he asks, thinking of her well-concealed glee when they were going into the Virtanen building.
She gives him a look and then says, "Certainly a better conclusion." Her mouth quirks sideways. After a moment she leans over and kisses him, soft and closed-mouthed. "You can rest here for a bit if you want," she tells him.
It's not an invitation to stay the rest of night. He hadn't expected one and wouldn't have accepted anyway, but permission to relax for a while is satisfying. He takes a deep breath and tries to keep his mind clear of the often-present worries connected to his current work. No number right now or Finch would have called him.
Zoe puts on a robe and walks to her bathroom; he takes the opportunity to get a good look at her bedroom. Scoping out the exits had been automatic, but now he sees the more intimate details that her living room lacked. Still no photos, but the furnishings are softer, more feminine.
Closing his eyes, he hears her pad into the kitchen. After a couple of minutes she comes back, carrying a tall glass of water. "You might want to drink this-considering everything else you drank this evening," she tells him. She sits on the bed next to him, legs crossed.
They sit in comfortable silence until she turns to him with a serious look and says, "John. Don't do that again."
He can guess what she's referring to, but he pretends ignorance. "I thought you liked that."
The humor surprises an unwilling chuckle out of her. After a moment she clarifies, "Don't track me again."
Her hair is an attractive mess and her face is slightly pink from his stubble; he raises an eyebrow at the picture she makes.
Zoe makes a rueful expression, then tightens her mouth and says, "Think of this as an incentive. If you ever want this to happen again..."
He does, but he wonders if he can afford it; if being with anyone is a luxury someone in his position doesn't get to have. Not to mention that what he's doing with his life now isn't exactly conducive to making meaningful connections.
Something in his expression must have betrayed those thoughts; she says, "You're not planning on it," in a surprised tone.
John doesn't reply. He expects a quick retort from her, a self-defensive remark like the time he'd commented about her job. Instead she just looks at him.
"Can you tell me your reasoning?" She pauses. "Since it involves me, I think I have a right to know." She looks like she already knows what he's going to say, but she waits for him to say it anyway. Judge and jury: the expression on her face reminds him that she had attended law school. She's waiting for him to finish his arguments and present hers.
Hard to muster an argument when he's thinking how appealing her self-confidence is. "I'm not exactly the safest person to know," he finally tells her.
"You worry that someone might threaten me to get leverage against you," she says. "That's sweet-and misguided."
He tilts his head and answers, "You can't tell me that you wouldn't be safer without me around."
Zoe laughs. "Remember who you're talking to. Not that I'm admitting to anything." She leans closer to him and says, "John, if someone wanted to try and control you, they could grab anyone and you would feel responsible."
She strokes his cheek and then his ear, the one where he usually wears his earbud. "Besides, you know who they would target if they really wanted to get to you."
He shivers, both at her touch and at the thought of someone going after Finch.
Pulling her hand back, Zoe shrugs and says, "No one can live without connections. Not even you."
John thinks about her, about Finch and himself. Zoe keeps no photos, like him; like Finch, she owns only a few treasured items. It's a delicious irony to hear her lecture him about the need for connections, but it doesn't make those statements wrong.
She's watching him, a self-deprecating expression flashing across her face. He wonders if she's thought through all the implications of arguing for more contact; perhaps not until this moment.
"Is this a negotiation?" he asks.
"Just some free advice," she answers with a wry smile. "Besides, everything is a negotiation. Some are more enjoyable than others, though."
Her hair tickles his face as she looms over him and briefly kisses him. She moves her mouth to his neck, tasting his skin and then drawing lines down his chest.
"You know I'm not up for business again yet," he says.
"I know," she says. Her voice is muffled against his skin. "I'm just exploring. Also, up for business? That is the worst pun ever, John."
He chuckles at her derision. Her hands move across his scars; she doesn't linger, but she doesn't ignore them either. He watches her brow wrinkle as she touches the scar on his shoulder from where he'd been shot by the gang kidnapping Judge Gates' son; it's still pink.
She doesn't ask about the marks. Instead she moves her hands to his arms, tracing his biceps and down his forearms; finally her fingers tangle with his for just a moment before she pulls away.
"Are you done?" he asks her.
"For now," she replies.
He flips her onto her back, smirking at her shriek of surprise; after untying her robe he tastes and touches his way down her body, listening to her gasp, feeling her fingers tighten their grip in his hair. "There," she orders him. "Yes," and then she moans and says something that sounds like his name.
It's difficult not to feel a bit smug, he thinks, seeing her lying across her bed, arms and legs sprawled and her eyes only half-open. His turn to entwine his fingers with hers. Suddenly she starts to giggle and it's both adorable and utterly incongruous.
"What?" he asks.
"Nothing," she answers, but then she follows up with, "Sex is therapeutic."
She lazily shrugs one shoulder. "I'm feeling pretty good right now. And you don't look quite so grim as before."
"It was that obvious?"
She gives him a look. "Yes."
He tightens his grip on her hand for a moment. "Thanks," he tells her.
She looks down and murmurs, "Yeah." John figures she doesn't know what to do with thanks when it isn't part of her system of favors.
It's getting late; or early, depending on one's perspective. He knows he needs to sleep, in case another number comes up, and thinks he actually could sleep now, but it has to be somewhere familiar. For years now he hasn't been able to sleep in places that weren't secured by him personally.
John looks around the room for his clothes. Zoe watches him dress, a small smile on her face.
"Do you want me to call a taxi?" she offers. "I know some trustworthy drivers."
"I've got someone," he answers. Pavel had insisted that John call him if he needed a ride during his late-night shift. He'd be thrilled if he knew John had gotten laid-not that John intended to let him know. Besides, Zoe probably didn't count as the "nice girl" Pavel wanted John to meet.
Better to avoid letting Pavel or anyone else know about his connection to Zoe. He types a quick text to Pavel's phone, giving him an intersection about four blocks from here as the meeting point. After sending the text, John ties his shoes and wanders back into her living room to locate his tie and jacket.
Grabbing her robe again, Zoe trails after him and walks into her kitchen, rummaging in the refrigerator. John finds his tie, which had ended up shoved halfway under the couch. Putting on his disguise, he thinks; camouflage to blend with the surroundings. Like Ulrich Kohl, who wore a nearly identical suit and tie.
"Do you ever wonder-" he starts, surprising himself by voicing his thoughts.
"Wonder about what?" she asks from her kitchen.
"Do you worry about making mistakes in what you do?"
She walks back into the living room, looking pensive. "All I can do is use the information I have. But I'm not trying to play God. Or be a super-hero."
"When I make mistakes, people die," he admits.
"Then don't make mistakes," she retorts. Softening her expression, she adds, "People die every day. How many would die if you did nothing?"
He doesn't know how to answer that after what happened with Kohl. Suicide by cop, except that instead, it was suicide by colleague; Kohl had known exactly how to make John act the way he wanted.
Zoe hands him an apple, an amused smile crossing her face; the symbolism is a bit too ironic. "Portable food," she murmurs as he takes it from her.
She watches him pull on his suit jacket, an analytical look on her face. Finally she says, "I don't know how you do what you do." Her tone is almost admiring and definitely curious. She doesn't understand all his motivations. Neither does he, to be honest. "I'm glad you do it, though."
He buttons the jacket and lets himself smile.
"I'd tell you to be careful, but..."
He answers, "Where's the fun in that?"
"Advice is still free, but just for today," she teases him as he walks to her door.
"Shall I call you later and see if you have more?" he asks.
She laughs. "You do that, John," she says, and closes the door after him.