Interlude: Le petit mort

Le petit mort. The 'little death'. John had never understood why the French called it that…until now.

Oh, intellectually he understood it. He'd seen the expression on Jessica's face after they were done. Slightly-dazed, eyes glazed, a happy smile. And he'd taken a purely masculine, selfish pride in being able to bring that smile to her face. And he'd loved her, and he'd thought he was in love with her.

And then there'd been Zoe. Blond, leggy Zoe. She had more muscle than Jessica had; lean muscular legs that wrapped around his waist and pulled him in, strong arms that could fight back when they were in bed—because the only time Zoe came to bed was when Reese had too much adrenaline to settle down, was too 'wired', still wanted strenuous physical activity. Their lovemaking was very physical, hard, hungry lust, nothing of softness or gentleness about it—whenever the softer side of John started to ease back on the strength he was using in bed, she'd deliberately bring 'Reese' back to the fore, biting him, scratching him. And he would growl at her and attack her again. There'd been more than a few mornings when he looked at the bites and scratches she left on him, and he looked at the bruises he left on her, and wondered at himself—but she assured him she loved it, and indeed, it was the only time he saw her in bed, so he'd just accepted that she liked hard, physical sex.

But Joss…oh, she was so different. He'd wanted to go slow, gentle, the way Jessica liked it; hadn't wanted anything rough or strenuous, not this soon after Walker. But he'd learned, early on, to let the woman take the lead, and while she hadn't been nearly as hard, as demanding, as Zoe, neither had she shown any marked preference for the slow gentle passion Jessica had preferred. Yes, she'd enjoyed it as a warm-up, but after that little sex kitten in Joss had come out to play, it had taken all of his control not to attack her, bear her down to the bed with him and hold her there as he took full advantage of everything her body offered. And there'd been moments, when she held him, he'd felt the strength in her deceptively lush body and was forcibly reminded that she could put him on his back on a gym mat if she tried. And the thought of having someone who could match him physically, the hint of strength under her soft exterior, had driven him wild.

But now, with Joss, he finally understood why the French called it that. He felt physically exhausted and sexually sated as he stretched himself out beside her somnolent form. She wasn't asleep, not fully, she moved aside a little to let him stretch out, and he took advantage of that, lying flat on his back and pulling her close to him in the crook of his arm. She nestled there, and she fit perfectly, and he couldn't resist running his fingers through her tousled hair. The texture was so different from Jessica's. He chuckled a little as he remembered one time, he'd done this after he and Jessica had made love, and she'd said, sleepily irritated, 'Stop it, I hate my hair.'

"What's so funny?" Joss asked quietly.

"Jessica used to hate it when I played with her hair in bed. She used to say she hated her hair." And then he realized what he'd just said, and groaned to himself. He'd just broken one of the cardinal rules of Man Law; never, ever mention an ex while you're in bed with a new love. Zoe had never wanted him to mention Jessica when he was with her. And he prepared himself to have to distract Joss.

But she did nothing of the sort. "I don't think I ever really thought about it, but I do like my hair. Why did Jessica hate hers?"

His brain skidded to a halt. "You're supposed to be upset that I mentioned another woman in bed."

She chuckled a little as she sat up. They were both still nude, and it felt like their souls were bared to each other as much as their bodies were. "John, I'm never going to be upset at anything you choose to discuss with me." She sobered. "I don't know much about you. And your past. But everything you've been through shaped who you are today, and while I hate that Jessica broke your heart, I also know that she must have had her reasons for doing so, and they must have made sense to her at the time. I'm not going to pass judgment on her because I never knew her." She looked up at him, and the emotion in her soft brown eyes made him swallow hard. "If it wasn't for her, you wouldn't be here right now. So I owe her everything. I owe her for giving me you." She sighed. "When I first started chasing you down, I wanted to know everything. I tried to find out everything I could about you and who you were and where you were from. But as I got to know you, what I saw didn't add up to what I read. I mean, seriously, John, warrants in four countries?"

He blushed and looked down quickly; this was one of the things he'd never wanted Joss to know. He didn't know if knowing what those warrants were for, knowing what he'd done, would change her perceptions of him, make her not love him, but he was desperately in love with her and if he looked into those soft brown eyes and saw condemnation there, it would kill him.

"I know there are things you don't want me to know. You think they'll change how I look at you, what I think of you. Since I don't know what those things are, John, I can't tell you for certain that they won't change what I think of you. I can't tell you for certain that they will. All I can say is that I'm here, and I'll listen to whatever you want to tell me about your life before me, before Finch, before…all of this…but if you never want to tell me, I'll accept that. I want whatever you want to share with me, John, but no more than that. I won't push, won't pry, won't dig. I promised myself that a long time ago, and I'll promise you that now."

It seemed like a moment for honesty on his part, too. "I had Finch look into your military file. It was so heavily-redacted I couldn't make sense out of it. I thought about asking Finch to find an unredacted copy, and then decided not to. Whatever and whoever you were before now, that was then. This is now. People change. And no one knows that more than I do. So whatever you want to tell me, I'll listen to, and I won't make judgments either." And then he leaned across the intervening bed space and whispered something into her ear.

Her eyes widened as he sat back. "That's your real name?"

He nodded. He'd just given her his real name, and with that, if she were so inclined, she would be able to dig into his past, find out who he truly was. In the years since Kara had tried to kill him and he'd officially gone MIA, he'd never told anyone.

"I think I like John Reese."

He stared at her, dumbfounded.

"John, that's who you were. That's not who you are now. You're still John—but you're a trained assassin, and you have a hard side to you that's enabled you to survive this crazy world for this long. 'Reese' might have originally been an alter ego, but he was a facet of your personality, a part of you, and I need to accept every part of you if I'm going to love you. You don't get to pick only parts of people to love. That's not love, that willful selfishness. I love you, all of you, and 'Reese' is as much a part of you as 'John' is. And…in this world we live in, the jobs we've chosen, the parts we play in society," she grinned crookedly now, "me as a cop, you as a vigilante superhero, I need 'Reese's' hardness by my side as much as I need 'John.' I need 'Reese' to yell at me when I'm being stupid, like starting a war between organized crime factions—and I need 'John' to hold me when I cry and tell me everything's going to be okay. I need all of you."

"You have me, Joss," he said quietly.

She looked searchingly at him, her expression momentarily unreadable. "Do I? But do you have all of yourself? Do you accept yourself, as much, as completely, as I accept you?"

"Of course," he said automatically, but she shook her head quietly.

"Sometimes I'm not sure, John. Sometimes I can feel you holding back. I can see flashes of 'John' coming out in the middle of a fight, and I can see 'Reese' try to come out in a quieter moment. But you throttle that down, tuck it away, compartmentalize. I can see it, and I hate seeing it. You should just be you. Don't worry about what others will think." She leaned forward, kissed him, long and lingeringly. "Don't worry what I'll think. Just be yourself, John. And everything else will fall into place."

He was only half-listening to her words as his hands came up to cup her face, caress her cheek, and she leaned her face into his palm. So smooth, so soft, delicate but strong…he was the luckiest man in the world…

Their kiss deepened, lengthened, and although he'd been feeling sated a few minutes before, desire uncoiled deep in his belly again, and he could tell from the sudden flush on her face that she was feeling it too. "We can't spend all night, we really should be getting home…Taylor will be waiting with my Mom…"

He reluctantly let go of her, slid off the other side of the bed and went to his clothes, sitting on the floor at the far end of the room. But as she reached for her purse, on the floor beside the bed, and fished out her cellphone, whatever she saw on the screen made her smile, and he crossed the room. "What?"

She grinned as she read the message on her cellphone screen."'Grandmom's asleep. If you come home you'll wake her up. Goodnight, Mom. Taylor.'"

"So apparently you have permission to stay out all night," John grinned, dropping his clothes back on the floor.

"He worries about me too much. I want him to have his own life and not worry about me so much," she said, frowning.

"He's a boy who cares about and loves his mother. And his mother cares about and loves him right back."

"He's a good kid," she said quietly.

"Yes, he is. And he has a good Mom." John crossed the space to the bed in two quick steps, and plopped down on the bed, suddenly feeling giddy and happy.

"No jumping on the bed," she said, but she grinned as she said it, as if sensing his change of mood.

He turned on her, grabbed her sides, fingers tickling her ribcage. She squirmed, shouted with laughter, and he found himself laughing with her as they rolled around nude on the bed, tussling happily. She squealed as he found a particularly ticklish spot, and it was such an adorably delightful sound that he couldn't resist doing it again, until she was breathless.

The sight of her slightly-parted lips woke his hunger again, and he leaned in for a long, slow kiss. She caught her breath as he claimed her mouth with his, and when she wrapped her arms around his neck and returned it, it took all of his self-control not to give into the hunger he knew they both felt.

But she apparently had something else in mind. "Lie down on your stomach," she whispered to him. "Relax."

"Relax? Around you? Hardly." But he was smiling affectionately as he lay down on his stomach, fully nude, atop the covers. A measure of trust he didn't give lightly—it had been drummed into him, first during his career in the military, then later during his time with the CIA, that turning your back to someone left you vulnerable. And vulnerability meant you died.

She straddled his lower back and reached up toward his neck with his hands. Although she could have easily strangled him from this position—and in fact, John had done that once, albeit to a guy—she showed no sign that she was going to be a threat to him at all. What a long way we've come from our rocky first few meetings four years ago, he mused as her fingers curled around his shoulders, kneading the tight muscle. If she'd had this opportunity while she was still chasing him, before the incident with Mark Snow on the garage roof, would she have taken the opportunity to kill him? There was a time when he'd been sure she would if she'd had the chance. But knowing her, now, he wondered if his impressions had been colored more by suspicion and paranoia and he hadn't actually seen her, seen who she was.

"Oooohh…." He had no idea that sensual groan had escaped him until he heard—and felt—her giggle. Well, with her thighs on either side of his ass, it would have been impossible for him not to feel her laugh at him. "Jesus, Joss…" Her hands were kneading the tight muscle groups at the junction of his neck and shoulders, and damn if that didn't feel good…almost as good as sex.

"I took a course, in college, on massage therapy. Just on a whim. I learned a little bit."

"You learned a lot," John groaned as those small, gentle soft hands worked the kinks out of his shoulder muscles, then worked their way down his back. Thumbs dug into either side of his spine, hard, but it wasn't painful; the pressure was loosening the knots in his back muscles, knot he hadn't even known were there. "Oh…God…you have magic hands…"

"Hmm. Feeling good there, Mister Reese?" she said jokingly, playfully.

"Really good," he assured her, perfectly serious. "No one's ever done this to me—or for me—before. I can't believe how good this feels." Muscles he didn't even know he had were relaxing. He wondered if maybe something like this would help the stiffness in Harold's spine and neck—and then erased that thought, hastily. No way was he sharing Joss—and her magic hands—with Harold. Hell no. She was all his.

Though he might get Harold a gift certificate for a massage from a licensed massage therapist. That he could do. Wouldn't mind doing. There were times when just looking at the tightness in Harold's muscles made his own neck ache. The tea Harold liked had a blend of herbs that actually worked as a mild muscle relaxant—something he wasn't sure Harold knew—but a good massage by a licensed massage therapist would probably help too, if Joss's long-ago college class on massage therapy was any indicator.

She worked her way down his spine until her hands were on the small of his back, then started down at his ankles and massaged her way up his calves and thighs…and higher. "Joss…"

"You've got some really tight muscles back here," and there was no mistaking the husky sensual purr in her voice. "Not that there's anything wrong with these tight muscles."

He twisted under her, shifting his hips until she was straddling his, his insistent hardness barely inches from where he really wanted to be at the moment, then looked up at her with a sly grin. "There's nothing wrong with those muscles," he said. "Now, this one…"

He didn't have to elaborate on which muscle he was talking about. She knew. He could see in her eyes that she knew. But instead her hands came up to his shoulders, and he almost lost his erection as her hands kneaded the hard pectoral muscles across his chest, then drifted to his upper arms and biceps. He'd never had his arms massaged before and goddamn, but if the woman didn't stop doing that soon, he wasn't going to stay awake long enough for her to attend to the one muscle group in his body he most wanted her to attend to...

She leaned down, in answer, and kissed him. Gently, on the lips, briefly; then she pulled back. He was about to feel disappointed when she took her mouth lower, to the scar at one side of his upper chest, just under his right collarbone, courtesy of a scalpel-wielding Afghani militant surgeon. She gave that scar a soft, wet kiss, left a tiny love bite on top of that scar, then made her way down his torso, leaving a trail of hot wet kisses on every scar and scratch that marred his skin. By the time she got to his groin, he was aching with need—and he lost all the breath in his body in a gasp of anguished ecstasy as she took him in her mouth.

"You teased me earlier," she growled—and the sound was so damn hot that he felt himself getting even harder, if that were possible. "Now it's time for you to get teased."

Long slow strokes of her lips up and down his length. Slow, hot swipes of her tongue around his shaft, up and down, around the sensitive head, until he was just on the edge of coming…and then she stopped, backed off, lavished some attention lower, at the base of his shaft, sucking one sensitive little bit of him into her mouth, then the other. It was erotic. It was driving him crazy. He'd never once had any woman give so much attention to those particular parts of him before, and the entirely new, intense sensation was keeping him right on the edge of arousal as his mind tried to decide if he liked it or not, while not allowing him to lose himself in the rush of sexual heat and finally come.

And damn if she hadn't learned something from him earlier in the evening—those strong hands with their deceptive softness were keeping his own hands pinioned, and he didn't have the strength—or presence of mind—to fight her hold and put her where he wanted her. All he could do was lie there, and feel, as she brought him to the brink, again, then back off by lavishing the same attention on his balls.

Again and again, as he writhed and groaned and endured…until finally, mercifully, she did not pull her mouth way as he hit that peak, and he shouted her name as every muscle in his body tensed, tightened, and he exploded into that hot, sucking wet mouth, his soul shattering into a thousand drops of light, and by the time he stopped shuddering, she was lying curled half under him, his head pillowed on her chest, her heartbeat pounding steadily, rhythmically in his ear, and there was nowhere else he would rather have been in that moment. And as he finally slipped into exhausted sleep, cocooned in the warmth of her love, he decided that he could die a happy man now.

Le petit mort, indeed.