This is a stand-alone story rather than a follow-up to my previous Zoe Morgan/John Reese fic, Lowdown Groove. Written as an episode tag for 1.13 "Root Cause."
The crowd ebbs and flows with lunch breaks and early afternoon shift changes. Business suits, scrubs, jeans, colorful long robes-all are barely visible with the equalizer of winter coats. She blends in today: hair pinned up under a cap, black jeans and boots under a dark gray coat instead of her usual crimson. Anonymous instead of memorable; sometimes Zoe likes to see the city without the filter of her work and all the jostling for power that it entails.
Winter in New York City-she can see her breath, but the cold air is tempered by a surprisingly bright February sun. She retreats to a less-crowded sidewalk for a moment and turns her face toward it, appreciating the light, if not the warmth.
Her phone rings and she fishes it out of her inner coat pocket, fumbling for a moment because of her gloves. Unknown caller. She doesn't answer unidentified calls without a good reason; her practice is to let the call go to voice mail. Her clients know to leave a message because she'll respond right away. Instead of the tone that indicates a new voice message, she gets a text. It's John. Then the phone rings again.
Zoe can feel a small smile crossing her face. Answering the call, she says, "Hello, John."
"Zoe," he says. "You're not afraid of heights, are you?"
Furrowing her brow for a moment, she answers, "No."
"Good. Want to meet for that drink?"
"What kind of drink did you have in mind?" she asks, tempted to laugh at the apparent disconnect between his two questions.
"Come and see," he tells her. "Can you meet me in an hour?"
"Feeling impetuous?" she teases him, and he actually lets out a small chuckle in response. It's more charming than she would have predicted, hearing him laugh for a moment. She tilts her head, thinking of what she had planned for the rest of the afternoon and evening: nothing essential at this point. John's schedule is doubtless even more unpredictable than hers. "Yes."
"Good," he says, sounding pleased. They arrange a place to meet and then he adds, "Wear something warm."
"What exactly are you-" planning, she thinks; he disconnected the call before she could finish her question. Zoe is briefly annoyed, but she's the one who started this game. She wouldn't have mentioned him owing her a drink if she hadn't had a genuine interest in sharing a drink with him, but it was also a dare, a character study. Something about his still demeanor made her want to poke at it.
He had thrown that right back at her. You once told me a story about a guy who could say two words that would make the reporters go away. Ever figure out what he said?
She found it hard to resist a challenge, especially from him. Shaking her head, Zoe glances at her planner again and then hails a cab. The mid-afternoon traffic lurches and crawls while she sits in the back and types on her phone. Finishing up, she leans her head back and closes her eyes for a minute. It's soothing to her, the noise of her city filtering through the car windows.
Stepping out of the cab, she spots John waiting for her at the intersection. Wearing an overcoat and a suit, he blends in more than usual in this crowd of mostly businessmen; they're either leaving work early or taking a break before going back. He's doing something with his cell phone; when he notices her, he removes his ear bud and puts it and his phone in his pocket. Nodding, he says, "Zoe," and starts walking.
"Where are we going?" she asks.
"Car's over there," he tells her.
She knew that this intersection wasn't their final destination, but his non-answer grates. Nothing is straightforward with him. After they get in the car, John drives northeast, staying on 9A along the Hudson.
"Yonkers?" she says in surprise. "Why are we going to Yonkers?"
"For a drink," he replies, voice blandly cheerful. It's both aggravating and attractive.
Right now she can't recall the last time she was in Yonkers. She'd missed it when she and her mother had first left, but now it's a reminder of the girl she was back then. Nothing wrong with that girl, but that's not who she is anymore.
John puts on some jazz and they spend the next twenty minutes comfortably bickering about jazz musicians. John has just enough information about jazz to come across as plausibly knowledgeable, but Zoe's been collecting jazz recordings since she was in college. She gleefully demolishes John's arguments, to his silent mirth. He's not invested in winning this fight; it's a tactic to make her talk. Zoe loves winning an argument, though. It's part of why she'd attended law school.
They turn onto McLean Avenue-not far from where her family lived before the scandal. The heart of the city, where the power had stayed for decades; even now it's dominated by those same old Irish families. John parks the car near the only tall building in this part of town: an apartment complex, maybe twelve stories tall.
It's not quite late enough for the commuter crowd to return home; they see an elderly couple and a woman pushing a baby in a stroller as they walk into the building. No one joins them in the elevator; John pushes the button for the top floor.
She spends the elevator ride trying to guess what he planned. John's expression wavers between inscrutable and vaguely amused. After they leave the elevator John walks over to the roof access, does something to the security system, and then opens the door. "After you," he says, half-smiling at her look of confusion.
She steps outside; still sunny, still cold. The still air at street level is now a light breeze that tugs at the scarf around her neck. With no other tall buildings on this side of town, the view is unobstructed. Trees in every direction, most of them bare of foliage.
"Great view up here," John tells her. "Plus no cameras." She raises an eyebrow but doesn't say anything. Surveillance concerns her and her clients, but she hasn't taken it to this level before.
John walks over to the northeast side of the building and she follows. "Do you recognize anything?" he asks her.
She stands next to him, suddenly understanding why they're here. Her old neighborhood and all the places from her childhood are spread out in front of them. Zoe glances at John; his expression is curious and hopeful. Back home; there's no reason that she couldn't visit. John, though-even if he has a home left somewhere, Zoe guesses that he won't be returning there.
John misses his home. He misses something, anyway. Someone? Otherwise he wouldn't have thought of this for her.
She lets herself smile. "You know I do. That's the park where I broke my wrist," she says, pointing northeast. "That's where my first baby-sitter lived." Glancing east, she can tell where her old house would be, though it isn't visible with the trees. She's finding more fond memories than she expected.
John interrupts her thoughts by asking, "Did you mind being an only child?"
"Not really, no." She laughs, remembering her one desire for a sibling. "Sometimes I wished for an older brother, but that was only when I got in trouble. I wanted someone else to take the blame."
One corner of his mouth quirks upward. "It doesn't work like that way as much as you would have liked."
"Hm." She waits for a moment, but he doesn't say anything else. End of the potentially personal revelations, thinks Zoe.
"My mother's church is that way," she tells him, pointing to the distant north. Her mother's family lived in the Slavic quarter. None of them left now except maybe a few distant cousins. They had cut ties with her mother after the scandal with Zoe's father... and maybe she really can't go home again, if home is made of the people connected by blood.
He's caught her brief change in mood, judging by his expression. Instead of pushing for information, he says, "I thought we'd watch the sunset." Then he turns and walks to the opposite side, where she can see two lounge chairs-the type that people keep next to their pools. They're weighed down along the bottom frames with concrete blocks. Between them is a small box; the neck of a bottle of wine sticks out above the flaps. John sits in one of them and gestures at the other.
Zoe sits in the chair and looks west. The Hudson River flows in an almost-straight line, barely visible through the bare trees. New Jersey lies past the river; Manhattan's skyscrapers to the south. In spite of being only twelve stories up, the view is impressive.
She glances at John; his profile looks less stern than usual. Turning, he raises his eyebrows as if to question why she was looking at him. His eyes are bright blue in the sunlight.
"Thank you for this," she tells him. "It's-" romantic, she thinks. John is a romantic who carries guns and wears killer suits. "Thoughtful," she finishes.
She doesn't need romance. Zoe didn't think she wanted it either; it pleases her and puts her on edge at the same time. Part of her wants to disabuse him of the notion that this is anything like a romance, but it's also endearing. Dammit.
Her conflicting emotions all agree that doing something like kissing him is the best way to deal with this confusion. Standing up from the chair, she glances at John as he looks inquisitively up at her. Zoe steps one leg over his chair and sits across his legs, raising her eyebrows as she looks into his eyes. "I'm blocking your view," she says. "What are you going to do about it?"
"What are my options?" he asks, his voice an amused rumble.
"There's only one right answer," she replies. He's smiling as he moves his mouth closer to hers. His lips press against hers; not tentative but gentle. Yet another move of his that leaves her conflicted. She begins tracing the seam of his lips with her tongue.
Zoe loves kissing. Friendly kisses, filthy kisses, quick pecks, kissing until her lips were sore-they're all good. Right now she's enjoying his lips and the solid feel of his body under hers. John puts one hand behind her neck and deepens the kiss; she slides forward to be closer to him.
"Ow," he suddenly mutters. She looks at him in surprise. Putting his hands on her hips, he gently pushes her back a few inches. "Hang on," he says, and then reaches behind him to find the lever to tilt the chair back until it's almost parallel to the ground. He lies back and grabs at her hips again; she gets the idea and scoots forward until she's straddling his hips.
"So," she says, and lets her voice trail off. "You going to tell me what happened?"
He looks like he's going to avoid answering the question, but then he admits, "Ran into a bullet a few weeks ago." Pointing to his lower abdomen, he adds, "Here, too. A visit from an old friend."
A surprising admission-not that it revealed much. She already knew that being John's friend wasn't a wise choice. She gave him a look anyway.
"It's not like I was trying to get shot," he says, pained.
"You might consider a new line of work," she tells him, repeating the words he said to her months ago.
He looks exasperated at the familiar sentence. Zoe decides she's teased him enough for the moment and leans forward, placing her hands on his shoulders to avoid putting her weight against his torso. She kisses the corner of his mouth, then his lower lip; the skin of his face feels cool. Sitting up again for a moment, she pulls off her cap. Taking out the two clips that kept her hair bound, she lets it fall on each side of her face before she leans forward again, her hair a veil around both of their faces to block some of the breeze.
She leans into him; his eyes close and she pauses for a second to admire the line of his lashes against his cheekbones. He's beautiful, she thinks; sharp angles that match what she's seen of him in action. Zoe presses their lips together again and John's tongue traces her teeth before flicking against her tongue. She's hazily aware that his hands are doing something behind her head as well. Taking off his gloves, she realizes a moment later when he glides his bare fingers through her hair. Reaching her jaw, he slides his hand up and traces the line of her ear; she shudders at the sensation, her hips moving against his.
He groans into her mouth and then asks her, "You planning on being on top all the time?"
She blinks at the leading question and says, "As long as it involves deck chairs, yes." John chuckles at this and she adds, "We can negotiate for the rest."
His hand slides behind her neck; pulling her head close again, he nips at her lower lip before sucking on it. John is good at multi-tasking-through her coat she can feel the pressure of his other hand against her lower back, pressing her against him until she's lying on top of him. Plastered to his chest-something she'd been trying to avoid because of his injuries, but he's not complaining. Now that she's not balancing her own weight with her hands, she can slide then behind his neck and rub her fingertips against the short hairs there.
The wind snaps for a brief moment, blowing her hair and sending cold air across their faces. One part of her thinks that making out on a rooftop in February wasn't the best idea, but the rest of her is thinking, Damn coats. He's too covered, and so is she.
John suddenly pushes on her shoulder. Dazed, she looks at him and realizes that he's trying to reach inside his coat pocket. She sits up as he fumbles for his phone. When he finally reaches it, he stares at the monitor.
"Tell me you don't have to answer that," she says hopefully, her voice husky; he gives her an ironic glance. They both know she'd never ignore certain callers.
Zoe stands up, legs shaky, while John peels off a piece of electrical tape that's covering the microphone before answering. "Hello, Harold," she hears him say as she steps away. Harold from the library, the man with the limp and the hidden power. She watches John talk, his body still and face calm; his voice is quiet enough that she can't hear from this distance until he raises his voice to say, "I was tied up." He glances at her when he says it, a tiny smirk crossing his face.
She raises her eyebrows at him after he says it and then wonders if he has access to an apartment here. Not that it matters right now; from the ongoing conversation, she's guessing that John isn't staying.
The sun has dropped close to the horizon; Zoe looks at the view and thinks again that it's romantic. More so in spring, perhaps, but it's still beautiful: her childhood home to the north, her chosen city sprawling south and east.
Stepping closer to her, John says, "I have to leave."
"So I gathered," she replies.
"I'll give you a ride back home."
Cocking her head to the side, she says, "I think I'll stay. I can make my own way home."
He looks like he might argue, but catches himself before saying anything. "Next time I'll arrange a day off." He has a self-deprecating expression on his face when he says it.
"Good idea," she says tartly.
He hesitates for a moment and then kisses her one more time, closed-mouth and sweet. Then he turns and walks to the roof access door, leaving her alone outside.
Zoe takes a deep breath and then strides over to her chair. Glancing at the box between the chairs, she notices that there are three other objects in the box as well as the bottle: a corkscrew and two wine glasses bundled in layers of paper. She considers opening the bottle but decides against it. Instead she watches the sun slip down past the horizon in relative silence, the noise from the streets muffled by the distance.
Time to make her way home. After looping her purse across her shoulder, she grabs the box to carry home with her; no point in leaving it here. Glancing around in the half-light, Zoe notices something next to John's deck chair. She takes a closer look: his gloves, she realizes. Right where he dropped them earlier. Smiling to herself, she stuffs them into the box as well before exiting the roof.