A/N: So, this is it: the last chapter. It's been amazing to receive all the reviews and follows and everything. You guys really do support this fandom and I'm so glad to be a part of it. Thank you.
She was ready for it, for the friendship, for whatever came with it or after it, but she wasn't sure he was. She decided that she'd make sure he knew, no matter what, he would always have a place in her life.
They didn't say anything for a minute. She sat next to him on the couch, waiting and watching as he ran his finger over the picture, a wistful smile on his face. John cut his eyes over to her and drew in a deep breath.
"She called me right before she…" He swallowed hard. "It went to my voicemail. I was out in the field, on assignment...hadn't heard from her in so long…when I finally got back to her, I could hear it in her voice…she was scared of something. I didn't know what it was, she wouldn't tell me, but I told her I'd be there, that I'd help her."
Jos smoothed her hand over this hair, encouraging him to continue. She knew, without a doubt, that he'd never told anyone any of this. He'd held it in for so long; it needed to come out. She wanted to be the one he leaned on when he finally let go of the guilt.
"You couldn't have known."
"Maybe not, but I let her down, again." He looked down at the picture again. "We had this taken while we were in Mexico. It was a weekend away that turned into almost a week. It was like the outside world didn't exist while we were there. I had decided to leave the service and told her that. She seemed happy about it. Then 9/11 happened and I re-upped; felt I had to. We fought about it. I left. I left her. I don't know what we would have been if I hadn't."
"You loved her, but John, you can't live on what-ifs. I learned that a long time ago."
"I know that, but I can't help the feeling that if I'd made a different choice, she'd still be alive."
He set the picture down on the table and shook his head when she opened her mouth to argue with him. He continued like he just couldn't stop the words.
"And then, after I got sober..." he cut his eyes at her and rolled them. "...I started asking myself if I'd really loved her. We'd only been together six months, we'd barely told anyone, I'd only met one or two of her friends. Maybe I just loved the idea of her. The freedom she represented. Would a man in love leave like that?" He looked at her, his eyes pleading for some answers, then looked down again. "I've been told it was my way of walling myself up, asking myself that."
Jos picked up the picture and smiled at it. "You look so different, so very happy. But, John, don't question whether you loved her. It might not have been the forever kind of love you were looking for, but there was definitely something there. You made choices that changed the course of your life. You made the choices that were right for you. She made the choices that were right, at the time, for her. You can't let the choices made then dictate the rest of your life like you have. You have to let it go or you're never going to find what you need."
He was quiet when she finished, just watching her, his eyes soft and glistening. "What do I need, Jos?"
She shook her head and ran her hand over his jaw. "I can't answer that for you; I wish I could. I do think you've made a good start, though."
Jos moved to get up and he laid his head back on the couch, closing his eyes. "Yeah?"
She glanced at him over her shoulder and smiled as she watched him pull his legs up and stretch out on the couch, his eyes still closed.
"Yeah, I do. You have a purpose now, a goal. The rest will come eventually, the more you open yourself up for it."
She heard him grunt in agreement, or what sounded like one, and Jos moved to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. She had a feeling it was going to be needed; she hadn't told him everything and she wanted him stone-cold sober when she did. She needed some distance. This side of John was something she hadn't prepared herself for; she'd expected the anger and the manipulation, but this vulnerable, sensitive side of him was pulling her in. She wanted to blame the alcohol, but she had a feeling it wasn't just that. The alcohol was just bringing it out without the barriers he usually threw up to protect himself.
When the timer went off on the coffee maker, she startled out of her fog and realized she hadn't heard anything from him the whole time.
She slipped her shoes off and tip-toed over to the couch. He was sound asleep. The corner of her mouth turned up as she watched his eyelids flutter with his dream. She reached down and pushed the hair off his forehead, letting her knuckles graze his cheek. She froze when his head shifted, searching out her hand. Not even thinking about it, Jos opened her palm and cupped his jaw, her thumb softly running over his cheek.
Jos knew she wasn't going to leave him to wake up alone, so she used the time to make a few calls. She called Finch first, letting him know that John was OK – more or less – but wouldn't be available until at least late morning the following day.
Her next call was to Taylor. They talked for a few minutes just going over his day, but she couldn't explain much to him about what was happening; it wasn't her story to tell. She told him she was taking care of a friend who needed her and she didn't know when she'd be home. It wasn't a lie. Taylor took it all in stride as he usually did and told her to call him if she needed anything. Jos couldn't help the smile her son always pulled from her.
Looking over at John, she was surprised when she realized that she really did consider him a friend. She just hoped it stayed that way after he woke up.
A couple hours passed and Jos spent the time reading the paper spread out on the kitchen counter and checking out the few books John had stashed on his floor to ceiling bookshelf. She ordered some dinner and put some aside for him when he finally woke up.
It shouldn't have surprised her when, an hour or so later, she felt him behind her as she watched the darkness fall on the park below.
He leaned his hand near her head on the window jam, his body close but not touching hers. She was caught off guard by the hum of disappointment that ran through her.
"Surprised you're still here." His voice was soft and close.
She could see him in the reflection of the window and caught his eyes with hers. She watched his right hand flex and relax, like he wanted to do something with it, but was debating whether or not he should.
She reached back, took hold of his hand and squeezed. He looked down at their hands and ran his fingers through hers, holding on.
"I didn't want you to wake up alone; you've had a rough day."
She felt his warm breath on her neck as he leaned down. "Which was made easier, thanks to you. Even with the bump on the head."
Jos squeezed his hand and moved out of his grasp, the weight of his words making her feel like she was about to sweep his legs out from under him. She knew he was going to be furious with her and she wished, more than anything, she could avoid that but didn't see any way out. She wanted to stay in the bubble they'd created around themselves over the past few hours.
She turned to look at him and saw the confusion at her sudden change in demeanor written on his face.
"It's nothing." At his raised eyebrow, she gave him a small smile. "Really. There's just more I need to tell you."
John cocked his head and watched her. She felt his gaze and walked over to the kitchen, cleaning up the counter of the remnants of her dinner. "There's some food in the refrigerator for you. I wasn't sure what you wanted or could handle, so I ordered a little bit of everything. Got it from the Chinese place down the street. It was the only place I knew that delivered. I didn't want to leave..."
Again, she felt him behind her and watched as he reached out and stilled her hand, interrupting her. "You're babbling. Come sit down and talk to me."
She let him lead her to the couch and sat down on the opposite end, not looking at him. She tried to gather her thoughts, but she couldn't figure out a way to tell him.
She heard him sigh and turned her head to look at him.
"Are you dying or something?"
"Is something wrong with Taylor?"
"Am I dying?"
She barked out a nervous laugh. "Not that I'm aware of."
He moved closer to her and leaned in, caught her eyes with his. She couldn't look away. He pinned her with them, a skill she figured he'd learned in his years with the CIA. Or maybe it was just how amazingly blue his eyes were tonight.
John reached out and ran his thumb over the hand resting on her thigh. "Then please, just tell me. You're making me nervous."
"I know who you are. Who you really are." She swallowed hard and stood, moving away, preparing for the explosion she knew would happen.
She could hear it in his voice, the fear, the betrayal. She heard him stand and pace around the livingroom. She couldn't look at him, couldn't handle the disappointment she knew she'd see. She heard him take a deep breath and when she felt him behind her, she was struck by the gentleness of his hand on her hip, turning her.
"Jos, look at me."
She just shook her head slowly, her chin against her chest.
He tilted her head up with his index finger. "Look at me."
She opened her eyes and focused on him, not surprised at all at the neutral look on his face. Another learned skill, she was sure. Don't give away your emotions.
"Tell me everything. Please."
It all came spilling out of her: the trip to New Rochelle, the call to her friend, the file, learning his real name, not just his aliases….everything. She couldn't stop talking, no matter how badly she wanted to.
John was quiet through the whole thing, just watching her, reading her. When she was done, he just nodded and turned away from her. He made his way to the window, where the whole conversation had started. She couldn't move.
"What are you planning on doing with the information, Jos?"
She shook her head with the shock, her eyes wide. "What am I planning…are you kidding? Nothing! The file is gone!"
It was his turn to be shocked and this time he didn't school his features to hide it. It was the one piece of information she'd neglected to share with him.
"Do you honestly think I would tell you all of this, risk pissing you off, if I was going to do something with it? If I was going to turn you over to the CIA or the FBI or whoever the hell else is looking for you?"
"Where is it? The file…"
She threw her hands up in the air, exasperated. "Probably in some landfill in Staten Island. How the hell should I know? I shredded it."
She watched his jaw work but no words came out. He ran his hand through his hair and to her surprise he let loose a laugh like she'd never heard from him.
"You shredded it?"
She nodded and blushed. "Yeah." His laugh was infectious and she smiled back at him.
"I can't believe you shredded it. Your moral compass is tilting, Carter."
At that, her smile disappeared. "No, I don't think it is. It's in the same position it's always been in. I did it for all the right reasons. Part of it was selfish, yes, but most of it was to keep a good man from suffering for things he had no control over then."
Again, he pinned her with his eyes, his smile just a little smaller, but still there. She felt a fluttering in her belly as he moved slowly towards her. "And the selfish part?" He stopped just short of her personal space.
She looked up at him, unafraid. "I believe in what you're doing. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here. I might not always agree with your methods, but the right outweighs the wrong in my book."
"You're pushy, you know that?" Her mouth quirked into a half smile and she looked away.
He leaned a little closer, "And?"
She stepped forward and laid her hand on his chest over his heart. "And…you're my friend. I care about you and what happens to you. I want to be there when you find the things you're looking for. I want to celebrate them with you."
The next thing she knew, his strong arms surrounded her and pulled her against his chest. Instinct made her wrap her arms around his waist.
"What if one of those things is you?"
It was barely a whisper, and she pulled back, positive she hadn't heard what she thought she'd just heard. "What?" Her eyes were wide and searching his.
She watched his Adam's apple bob once or twice and felt him press his lips against her forehead. "Nothing. We'll save it for another time."
Jos swallowed and nodded, not willing to start that conversation after the evening they'd just had. She had to process it. And, she figured, so did he.
When John finally let her go, she cleared her throat and looked up at him. "So, we're OK?"
He nodded. "We're good. If someone had to get their hands on that file…." He shook his head, his hand in his hair. "I'd say I was very lucky it was you."
She cocked her head at him. "No luck involved, mister. I'm just that damn good."
"I have absolutely no doubt about that."
Their eyes locked and held for a long moment before she broke the gaze. "Now, if you're feeling better – I know I am – I'm going to go. It's late and Taylor probably thinks I've forgotten about him."
She headed towards the door, picking up her purse and coat as she went. She was uneasy again and she could tell he knew it just by the cocky grin on his face. Damn it.
She stopped in her tracks facing the door. "Yeah?"
His hands landed gently on her shoulders and he leaned down, brushing her ear with his nose. "Thank you for tonight. For being here when I needed…a friend. It...it means a lot to me."
She nodded quickly. "You're welcome."
He reached past her and unlocked the door, opening it. "Tell Taylor thank you too."
She turned and smiled, stepping backwards into the hall. "Good night, John. Get some sleep."
"I'll sleep well tonight, I'm sure."
At that, Jos turned and headed down the hall.
When she made it to the park, she couldn't resist the urge to look up at the window. He was there, shadowed against the glass. He raised his hand in a wave and then turned back into the light.
Jos smiled, waved at his retreating form, and headed home.