The timbers of the old hunting cabin creaked and groaned beneath the onslaught of the storm which raged just beyond its walls. The structure held strong as it had for many years past and would for many more to come. The wind moaned with a ferocity that made Annie shiver, despite the warmth of the thick wool blankets and that of the small fire, blazing cheerfully in the stone hearth. The storm was growing steadily worse, and while it prevented Simon's men from following them, it also prevented Jai's contacts from reaching them.
With one coat between them and the temperature steadily falling, Jai had made the decision to switch to plan B: find shelter and ride out the storm. The shelter was in the form of a small hunting cabin owned by a 'friend'. It seemed a bit convenient to Annie, particularly considering the fact that the land it was sitting on bordered Simon's and she wondered if this friend was a 'cousin' of a sort, a fellow spy. The cabin was small and cold, but well stocked with firewood and supplies.
Annie shifted closer to the fire, drawing the blankets closer as she did against the lingering chill. A wince slipped through her tightly clenched teeth at the movement. Now that the warmth was returning to her chilled body, she was beginning to feel the injuries she had sustained during her fight and mad flight. Her body felt like one big bruise. Her ribs ached dully in rhythm with the faint pounding in her skull. Her right knee was ached where it had struck the rock and her shoulder twinged with every miniscule movement she made. Still the pain meant that she was alive…
…because of Jai.
Her eyes slipped closed and after a moment she struggled to open them, afraid she might wake to find it had all been a dream, a hallucination as a result of Simon's drugs. That she was still a prisoner…and Jai was really dead. She watched the door for a moment longer before her eyes began to droop again. Between the warmth of the fire and the heavy drugs in her system, she was fighting a losing battle. The door to the cabin opened, ushering in a blast of cold air and snow, and Jai. He shouldered the door closed behind him with an effort, bolting out the cold night before stamping the snow from his boots and crossing the room to join her by the fire.
He dropped an arm full of wood into the wood box, then tugged off his coat and brushed the snow from his thick hair before crouching down to tend the fire. Annie watched him through hooded eyes as the light from the fire danced across his strong features, so familiar and yet strange somehow. A well trimmed scruff of beard lined his jaw, adding distinction to his features, making him look older…
…or perhaps it was his eyes that made him appear so.
There was a heaviness that had not been present in the Jai that she had known; a edge of darkness like a hardened shell, or a shield of a sort…and she wondered what had happened to cause it. She had seen that look before in Ben's eyes…and she wondered if her eyes held it as well. It made her sad to think so, but it was true. She felt jaded and hardened…and she found she longed to be happy but wasn't sure that she knew how to be so anymore.
She blinked hard at the spiral her thoughts were taking, and chocked it up to Simon's crazy strong truth serum. The truth hurt. Jai glanced her way and his eyes softened as he caught her staring. She saw a flicker of the old Jai, her Jai, as he smiled. She had missed his smile.
"You're meant to wear that, you know. It isn't doing you much good sitting on the floor."
On second thought, she hated that smile. It widened into a grin as she scowled at the offending pile of fabric on the ground beside her.
"It smells…like moth balls." She mumbled, her nose wrinkling in distaste.
His soft snort made her smile despite her annoyance. Annie pulled her blankets closer as she forced her smile into a frown in annoyance. She wasn't cold enough to desire to put up with the smell of old wool and moth balls. If he liked it so much, then he could wear it himself. Jai's soft laugh broke through her sluggish thoughts and she realized that she had spoken aloud…again. Apparently a side affect…
"Better moth balls than freezing to death." Jai stated as he set the poker aside and moved the battered old tea kettle from the warming rack to the table. "How are you feeling?"
"Sore." She remarked honestly as the fight drained from her. "and tired."
She watched as he poured the hot water into a pair of mugs, and her stomach growled as the smell of thick chocolate wafted through the room. He returned the kettle to the rack and squatted on his heels beside her.
"Think your stomach can handle this?" He asked quietly as he offered her the mug.
Annie considered the question tentatively, and found to her relief that the nausea had subsided. She nodded and slipped a hand from beneath the folds of the blanket. Jai placed the mug in her hand, steadying it, and she gave him a small smile of thanks as she slowly raised it to her lips. She winced as a sharp pain radiated through her arm, causing her to fumble the mug. Jai caught it before it could spill and set it on the ground beside them. He uttered a muffled oath. She looked up to find his eyes dark and hard, and she flinched as he reached a hand toward her. He paused at her reaction, and lowered his hand to his side, his eyes softening with an apology.
"May I?" He asked thickly, gesturing to her shoulder.
The blanket had slipped from her shoulder, exposing a well defined set of angry red bruises, most a result of her tumble down the side of the mountain…but not all. She cursed her weakened state mentally, wishing that she'd had the strength to put on the sweater before he had returned. Her pale camisole only served to accentuate the marks. Jai's hands were gentle as they examined her shoulder carefully, lingering below the finger shaped marks around her upper arm where Simon had grabbed her.
"He got a bloodied nose for his effort." She remarked quietly, desperate to counter the guilt she saw in his eyes.
Jai smiled faintly as he gently tucked the blankets around her. "Good." He replied quietly as he retrieved the mug and placed it in her good hand.
She settled her free hand over his, her eyes searching his face. "This wasn't your fault, Jai. If anyone's, it's mine. I'm the one who went in without backup. I would be dead if it wasn't for you."
He raised his eyes and smiled. "So that is another one you owe me, Walker."
Annie snorted and tugged the mug away as he stood. She ignored him playfully as she slipped her feet from beneath the shelter of the blanket and closer to the heat radiating from the fire. Her skin was red and it tingled as if a mild electric current ran through it, but there seemed to be no sign of frost bite. Her eyes shifted to the pile of ruined suede in a nearby corner, her boots were a lost cause. Pity, she had loved those boots.
"I'll get you another pair when we get back to D.C." Jai remarked quietly as he settled onto the stone floor beside her.
"Does that mean you are coming back?" she asked quietly.
Jai pulled her feet onto his lap, and she winced as her warmed skin brushed the cold that still clung to his clothes. His hands were warm and his touch gentle as he examined her skin.
She shivered as he brushed the tip of his forefinger along the arch of her foot. He grinned before reaching over and retrieving a pair of thick wool stocks from the pile beside her. He gently placed them on her feet before tucking them beneath her blanket with a gentle care that made her feel safe….
… and she had not felt safe for so long.
"Jai, what happened?" she asked quietly. "At the dinner, I mean. I thought you died."
The humor drained from his eyes and he shifted his gaze toward the fire as he retrieved his mug. The room was quiet for a long moment, apart from the crackling of the fire and the moan of the wind.
"It all began a bit further back. My promotion, the projects…it was all a setup. A deep cover mission." He began quietly. "There is a mole in the Agency. My job was to unearth and expose them, but I got to cocky and they caught on to me first. A few attempts were made against my life, and so it was decided that I would fake my death and go into deep cover." His jaw tightened. "I needed a witness."
The pain washed fresh through Annie at his words. "So you chose me?"
Jai flinched at the pain in her voice. He turned toward her, his dark eyes sorrowful. "I didn't want to, Annie. I didn't even know what they planned to do until a saw the bomb, by then it was too late."
"But I was right behind you, if I hadn't forgotten my umbrella…"
Jai shook his head again. "The waitress was one of us, Annie. If you hadn't left the umbrella she would have found something to delay you. We knew Simon was the key to finding the mole, so I went in as a member of his security team. The second part of the plan an even bigger risk. I fought against it, but in the end it was Arthur's decision. You were reassigned to Lena's department. She had been watching you for some time, but Arthur had declined her previous request to transfer you."
Annie lowered the mug to her lap, her hands clenched tightly around it as she considered his words. A bitter taste settled in her mouth as the pieces began to fall into place.
"Lena is the mole?"
"But it was her idea for me to get involved with Simon. She encouraged me to start a relationship with him…to gain his trust…" Her voice slipped to a whisper as she reconsidered the events of the past couple months from a new angle. "I fell for him, Jai. I thought I was in love with him." She whispered, her eyes dropping as shame and hurt. Her vision blurred and she felt cold and tired. "They used me."
Jai settled beside her and gathered her into his arms, blanket, mug and all. She turned her face into his chest, ignoring the pain in her shoulder as she battled for control over her fragile emotions. Darn truth serum.
"She set me up." Annie growled with a sob, as she fisted a hand against his sweater.
"Yes." He offered.
His arms were strong and comforting as if they could shield her from the pain that threatened to undo her…and for the moment she let them, pressing her face into his chest as the tears began to flow. She was so tired…
"I'm sorry, Annie." She heard him whisper softly. "I'm so sorry."
She closed her eyes as she melted against him, strength fading fast. "Don't leave me again."
"I won't, I promise. Rest, Annie." She felt his lips brush her hair as he cradled her closer. "I'll get you home safe."
She smiled at his words, despite her tears, as the comforting blackness swirled up to meet her.
"You always do."
A/N: forgive the delay. Hope that you enjoyed it. Loved Jai – glad he was acknowledge as a hero, though I wish they hadn't killed him off. One final tag to come in the future – Merry Christmas for now