I hope you all had a very merry Christmas!
This is forjr_jackgrl who requested: A JC fic with any or all of the following: Smut/Angst/Humour.
I settled on the angst... not very christmassy, but I hope you like it!
(The smut and humour were supposed to be in the stocking stuffer, but my laptop kindly took care of part two and three and deleted them so I had to start again from a draft... might take me a while...)
Title: The Man Outside
Rating: I never know how to rate them. Bit of swearing, quite brutal, no one naked, PG-13?
Disclaimer: I don't own them.
A/N: If you want me to expand, I have more, enough for a second part. Let me know :)
Chloe shut off the engine and quickly glanced up and down the front of the house. Dark windows stared back at her, unmoved, unimpressed by her fear. She took a deep breath and after another brief moment of hesitation opened the driver’s door. Carefully scanning her surroundings she tried to work up the courage to walk over to the house. She caught herself biting down onto her bottom lip and wished with all her heart she hadn’t declined Chase’s offer to accompany her. With a sigh she slowly started walking towards the house. Not a single sign indicated that someone had been here recently. She fought to control her breathing when the panic threatened to overwhelm her and her stomach clenched. Only some more minutes and she would know. Or see.
With trembling hands she unlocked and pushed open the front door.
“Jack?” she called into the depths of the unfamiliar house.
Closing the door behind herself she searched for the light switch. The air in the hallway was cool and smelled as if no one had been there to air for quite a while. Dust, wood, leather, just what she imagined a cottage would smell.
The hallway lit up when her hand found the switch.
Just empty hooks and hangers.
Slowly she made her way down the hall and into the living room.
“Jack?” she called again, her voice thick with fear.
The moment his name left her lips her eyes fell upon his body stretched out on the couch.
She stood rooted to the spot for a couple of seconds that to her seemed to stretch into eternity.
Just stood there and scanned his body for signs of life.
Or decay, she couldn’t help thinking.
With a relieved sob she registered that he was breathing, his chest rising and falling in intervals. She ignored the silent tears that instantly sprung from her eyes, ignored her wobbly knees and quietly walked over to the couch table on which she eased down without a sound, overwhelmed of her feelings, her eyes never leaving Jack’s sleeping form.
The tension that had built up since Bill had called her two days ago came off her in waves and exhaustion started to creep onto her. She wiped at the tears streaming down her cheeks and couldn’t help but smile in utter relief.
She had refused to admit it even to Chase but when Bill had called her and admitted he had known all these months where Jack was her momentary joy had transformed into a tight little ball of fear that had taken residence in her stomach when her former boss had told her he hadn’t been able to contact Jack in a week and was seriously worried.
She had neither been able to sleep nor to eat, feverishly hoping that she wouldn’t be too late.
Too late to talk to him, to convince him.
Although Chase hadn’t said so she knew he thought along the same lines when he pressed her to let him come with her.
But she knew she had to do this alone if she wanted to have a chance.
She needed to be alone with him.
In silence she regarded his face.
His eyes lay deep in their hollows and there where dark circles under them. He looked thin and exhausted under the long beard hiding the better part of his face.
Her chest constricted painfully with her observations and she fought hard not to give into her feelings and her tears.
He didn’t deserve this. Left to rot by his country, deserted, betrayed, in pain.
Trying to keep her emotions in check she just looked at him, unable to decide what to do or say. Part of her wanted to hug him and hold him close and tell him everything would be alright while part of her knew it wouldn’t.
It wouldn’t just be alright, even if he agreed to come with her.
And what would she do if he just told her to fuck off, to leave him alone, that she didn’t need to feel responsible, that he didn’t need her pity, thank you very much?
Would she be strong enough to face his anger, his pain, his fear?
Would she be strong enough for both of them?
She didn’t know how long she had sat at his side when he stirred, opened his eyes and blinked into the light.
“Jack” she said quietly, her voice almost a whisper.
She could literally see all his muscles contract when he went from sleep into defence mode in a split second.
He shot up into a sitting position, ready to strike.
She willed herself to stay calm and meet his wild, still unfocused gaze: “Jack. It’s me.”
He stared at her, his body tense from top till toe, and she could see his jugular veins pulsate while he tried to get his brain to work. She saw his expression change, saw the tension wear off and watched him pale.
He blinked in disbelief, a mixture of doubt and pain settling into his features that made her chest hurt.
They stared at each other for a few long moments, neither of them saying a word. Then he tentatively reached out to touch her cheek as if to convince himself that she really was there. She drew in a shaky breath when his fingers made contact with her skin.
“I’m here, Jack. It’s alright” she whispered, her voice strangled. His expression softened and she could see the same moisture gathering in his eyes that she felt pooling up in her own. His fingers continued moving over her skin in a featherlike touch, his brain still needing reassurance from his senses before daring to believe.
“Chloe” he whispered hoarsely and caused her to bite down onto her lower lip to prevent herself from breaking into tears.
“Chloe” he repeated, a tenderness to his voice that made it difficult for her to breathe.
She closed her eyes and melted into his touch, trying to compose herself. When he broke the contact she reluctantly opened her eyes and found him looking at her, the familiar mask firmly in place, his expression hard, unyielding.
Quickly he got up. “You need to go” he said, his eyes firmly fixed on the wall behind her left shoulder. She looked at him, carefully weighing her options. Slowly she got up, too. Tentatively she took a step to the side that brought her face into his field of vision again. She looked at him for a moment, drawing his eyes towards hers.
She had known him long enough to read him. She knew his lines of defence, knew how to circumvent them, yet she always found herself intimidated by his barriers, tempted to accept them, to back off. But she knew, too, that if she did she probably would never see him again.
“You know I can’t” she said quietly, steadily meeting his eyes.
He blinked several times to keep back the tears but couldn’t prevent his lips from trembling. An expression of reproach combined with a silent threat was in his eyes while he desperately fought to keep his defences in place.
“Please” he whispered. “Please just leave.”
She shook her head, repeating her words when she reached out to touch him like he had done moments before: “I won’t, Jack. I can’t.”
Gently she trailed her fingers down his cheek, tenderly stroking his unruly beard before moving to wipe away the tears that ran down his face. He closed his eyes at her touch and she moved closer towards him, resting her forehead against his while holding his face in her hands. “It’s alright, I’m here.”
When he opened his eyes they were red and swollen. He took a step backwards and wiped his eyes with his sleeves.
“How did you…?” His voice trailed off when he squeezed his eyes shut with his left hand for a moment and tried to control his emotions.
She sat down onto the couch. “Bill couldn’t come out here by himself. He was worried.”
“I wanted to…” He didn’t finish the sentence. “Is he alright?”
Chloe sighed. “He’s in prison.” She could see Jack’s jaws clench. “Sandra Palmer is doing her best to get him out. It looks as if she’s going to succeed.”
Jack nodded and his eyes darted to his hands.
Carefully Chloe weighed her next words. “I know you didn’t want me to know. But now I do, Jack. And what I’m going to tell you now will never change and I wouldn’t have said anything else had I come earlier: I want you to come home with me.”
He was silent for long moment. Absent-mindedly his hand opened and closed, to Chloe a familiar sign of violent emotions. “I can’t” he said finally, his voice almost inaudible.
“I won’t leave you here” she answered, trying to sound resolute.
“Well, you won’t have much of a choice.” His voice was cold and she knew he was retreating into the depths of his trenches.
“I’m not going anywhere without you” she said quietly, searching his eyes.
“Please, Chloe, don’t… I can’t… you don’t know what it would mean to…” The words slipped away as his distress grew. “I’m not the same man you knew. In China they…”
Chloe took a step towards him and placed her hands on his shoulders, silencing him. She looked into his eyes for a long moment. “I know, Jack. I processed the reports.”
His eyes darted away from hers but returned at her next words.
“I won’t say I can imagine what you are going through because I can’t. But I know one thing, Jack: I want you to live.”
There were fresh tears in his eyes when his gaze drifted from hers for a second and he looked through the window into the distance. When his eyes sought hers once more there was a small lopsided smile playing around his lips:
“What if there isn’t a way for me?” he asked hoarsely.
She met his gaze and her voice shook slightly when she answered: “Then you won’t have to be alone.”
He stared at her in disbelief, not daring to process what he had just heard. His lips were quivering when his emotions overwhelmed him and a ragged breath escaped his lungs. There wasn’t a trace of hesitation in her eyes, not a hint of insecurity.
“Oh my god” he whispered. “You really mean it.” He looked at her with moist eyes, waiting for her to confirm his words, needing to hear her say it.
“I do. I’m here, Jack. I won’t go anywhere. I can’t offer you much, but I can offer you company” she said gently. “Let me help you find a way.”
“You haven’t heard my screams at night” he said tonelessly.
“If I would leave now I would hear them despite the distance.”
“Please, just leave” he begged. “You don’t have to do this, Chloe.”
“Yes, I do. Because I care.”
Her words caused him to unravel completely. He hid his face in his hands and turned from her as violent sobs shook his chest. Chloe followed him with a few quick steps and wrapped her arms around his shaking body.
“It’s okay, Jack. It’s okay. Let’s get you home.”
In silence Jack stared out of the window while she drove. He hadn’t said much since they had left Bill’s cottage and she didn’t want to pressure him.
“What date is today?” His voice was barely a whisper.
“It’s a week until Christmas” she replied.
“Oh my god” he said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I… Please, let me get out of the car, I’m…”
Chloe pulled over and stopped the car at the side of the road. The distress that showed in his features made her stomach clench.
“What’s the matter?” she asked gently.
“Thank you, Chloe, but I can’t come with you” he said mechanically.
She reached over and gently touched his arm to make him look at her.
“I don’t want to ruin Christmas for you” he said tonelessly, still not meeting her eyes.
“Look at me, Jack” she said softly. Slowly he lifted his eyes. He looked so vulnerable, so lost as he sat there, his shoulders slumping and his eyes so full of desperation, so empty that it felt as if she needed to scream out loud to be able to stand the pain flooding through her.
“You know, to me Christmas is about being with the people you love, with your family. And to me, you’ve been family for a very long time, Jack.”
His eyes left her and she saw him swallow down the tears.
“And I know Chase feels the same. We know it’s not going to be a walk in the park. But we’re both there, Jack, whatever is going to happen.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. Just let me take you home.”
He looked at her for a long moment and she could see his inner battle. She waited patiently though caught herself holding her breath. Finally he nodded. “Thank you” he whispered.
“There we are” she said when she pulled the car up the curve in front of their house. Jack cast a quick glance out of the window and nodded before his eyes once more settled on his hands that rested in his lap.
She retrieved the keys from the ignition and turned towards him. His face was unreadable and he seemed so far away, he had always been able to retreat into himself and detach quickly but it scared her how his imprisonment had caused him to perfect that ability. Tentatively she reached out and lightly touched his arm.
“Are you ready to go in?” she asked gently. “Or would you rather sit here for another moment?”
He snapped out of his thoughts and looked at her. Something that with a bit of good will almost could have passed as a smile appeared on his face for a second.
“I’m sorry. I guess I just need time to adjust. I haven’t been talking to anyone but Bill in weeks. It’s much to deal with.”
She smiled at him. “I understand. Just tell me what you need. If you want I can go on in and you can come whenever you’re ready.”
He shook his head and his slips bend into a crooked smile. “I’ll better be going with you. You never know if might make a run for it otherwise.”
Chloe unlocked the door and pushed it open. Slipping out of her cardigan and discarding her shoes she called: “We’re home!” into the depths of the house. From down the hall Jack could hear laughter and the clear voice of a child and for a moment he just stood at the threshold and blinked into the lights, intoxicated by the feeling of “home” the house emitted. The smell of baking wavered towards him and the hallway bore traces of the pleasant chaos children as inhabitants brought with them. There was a pile of small shoes piled atop of their adult counterparts, children sized jackets waited on hooks in hip height and various items of brightly-coloured clothes lay everywhere. Chloe turned towards him with a warm smile. “Come on in.”
She stepped to the side to make room for him and closed the door behind him. “I’m sorry, but it’s a bit messy. Watch out for the Lego bricks in particular, we didn’t have time to…”
“Chloe” he interrupted her. “It’s perfect.”
She stopped her ramble with an expression of surprise that turned into a thankful smile when she realized he meant it. Tugging a strand of hair back behind her ear she pushed aside a wooden car with her left foot. “Make yourself comfortable” she said with a gesture including the whole building.
“Thank you” he said, bending down to untie the laces of his shoes. The drum of little feet on the wooden floor caused him to look up. A tiny fair-haired child was staggering towards them on legs it apparently hadn’t yet mastered to gain full control over. A huge smile on its face it was closing in on Chloe with absolute determination.
“And you might want to watch out for the toddler, too” she said with a smirk before bending down and spreading out her arms to welcome the babbling child. “Hi baby” she whispered with a smile so full of love that it made Jack’s heart ache with longing. The child launched itself into her arms with a delighted squeal. Kissing it soundly on it’s still sparely haired head she took a closer look and an amused sigh escaped her lips. Careful to avoid the tiny hands reaching out for her face she lifted the baby up and carried it to the kitchen. Turning back towards him she nodded gently, indicating him to follow her.
“I don’t know if you noticed but this child is completely covered in icing” she said when she rounded the corner. Chase sat at the kitchen table, Angela next to him and grinned at her: “The other one is, too.”
Chloe rolled her eyes at him but nevertheless leaned in to kiss his cheek and Angela’s forehead. “Hi sweetheart. Are you having a good time?”
The little girl nodded, smiling brightly at her. “We’re decorating the cookies.”
“They look wonderful. Do I get to taste one?”
Angela shook her head: “Daddy says after dinner.”
Chloe smiled at her. “He’s right. And probably after a tour to the bathroom, too” she added, directed at Chase.
She sat the baby down onto his lap where it happily helped itself to another handful of icing and turned towards Jack who had stopped in the doorway, keeping his distance, overwhelmed of the warmth, the smiles and the tenderness, reluctant to intrude. He regarded the scene unfolding in front of him with a wistful smile, his heart aching while he recalled a similar scene, Kim smiling at him from her mother’s lap, covered in ice cream from head to toe. They had both tasted chocolate when he had kissed them hello and he had sat down beside them and just watched them in silence, marvelling at how lucky he was to have them, at how everything else faded into unimportance as soon he entered their home.
Chloe’s voice drifted to him through the haze of his memories. “Are you okay?” she asked. He nodded. “It’s just a bit too much at the moment.”
She smiled sympathetically. “I’ll show you your room.”
When she stepped past him his eyes met Chase’s. His former partner looked at him from across the room, his green eyes mustering him with the familiar intensity.
“Welcome home, Jack” he said, calm and sincere, and Jack had to discover that his voice was refusing to cooperate. He couldn’t but nod in gratitude but Chase’s little nod assured him there weren’t any words necessary.
A soft knock on the door caused Jack to sit up with a start. He rubbed his eyes and tried to focus, momentarily unaware of where he was. When with the contours of the room his orientation came back he said: “Come in.”
The door opened and Chase appeared in the doorway.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up” the younger man said, a small apologetic smile playing around his lips.
“No problem. I didn’t intend to fall asleep” Jack said, a feeling of awkwardness creeping onto him and causing him to get up quickly from where he sat on the edge of the bed.
Chase nodded thoughtfully. “Dinner is ready in a couple of minutes. But if you’d rather eat alone later… I mean if it’s too much with the kids, just say so. Chloe or I can keep you company” he offered.
Jack shook his head. “It’s fine. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Chase nodded, and turned to leave but halfway changed his mind and stopped, scratching his brow as he searched for the right words.
“Listen, Jack” he began and Jack tried to refrain from fidgeting, feeling unsure of what to make of the situation.
Chase’s eyes found his and he met his gaze steadily. His next words made it difficult for Jack to maintain his composure. His former partner’s voice was hoarse when he continued:
“I’m so sorry we didn’t find you.”
Jack couldn’t do anything but nod.
“I don’t know if Chloe told you so, but we both agree on this. You’re welcome as long as you want to stay.”
Chloe was already halfway out of her bed when she realized the source of the sound that had woken her up wasn’t one of the children’s bedrooms. At first the wailing made her think of a wounded animal but then she realized that it had to be Jack. The realization caused her chest to constrict painfully.
Taking a deep breath she slipped into her robe and hurried to his room. Without further hesitation she opened the door, trying to stay calm. She felt for the light switch with trembling fingers. When the lights sprang to life the expression on his face almost made her sick.
With a few quick steps she was next to him, her brain working frantically to decide what to do.
She knew she had to be careful, sensed that neither he nor she might be able to control the powers his pain unleashed. Following an instinct she reached out to touch his face and called his name.
He almost instantly opened his eyes at her touch, his hands flying up and gripping her wrists with a strength that made her gasp in pain and wonder if he hadn’t broken a bone there.
A man she never had seen before stared at her with wild, bloodshot eyes. Fighting the panic that rose in her chest and the desire to call for Chase she simply continued to talk.
“It’s okay, Jack, it’s me. It’s okay. You had a nightmare.”
He blinked several times, but without loosening his grip.
“It’s okay, Jack” she whispered, trying to keep the tears out of her voice. “It’s me, Chloe. You’re safe. No one can hurt you.”
When he let go of her hands she had to bite her lip to prevent herself from crying out in relief. The maniac expression that had contorted his features a split second before made room for an expression of horror and disgust. And pain so raw the tears automatically sprang to her eyes.
“Oh my god, Chloe” he stammered. “I’m so sorry, I… I didn’t mean to... I need to leave.”
And dragging away the covers he tried to get up but she stopped him, taking his face once more into her hands.
Shaking her head she said quietly: “You need to stay.”
“I scared you” he whispered. “I… did I hurt you?” He looked so defeated that she didn’t trust her voice to talk and just shook her head again, her thumbs wiping away the tears that had started falling from his eyes when had realized what had just happened.
“I did, didn’t I?” he said, his eyes imploring her to tell the truth. He had always been able to tell if she was lying to him so she should have known better than to try.
“Chloe” he urged her.
She couldn’t meet his eyes when she finally ventured to speak:
“I was careless. I scared you. It wasn’t your fault.”
He looked at her with an expression so full of tenderness that her breath hitched in her throat. He reached out and gently stroked over her hair, smoothing down some unruly strands.
Watching his hands in her hair for a moment he said quietly: “We both know that’s not true.”
“Don’t say that, Jack. None of that is your fault. Do you understand?” she said.
His gaze drifted to the wall behind her and when it returned his expression was hard.
“Of course it is. I shouldn’t be here. This is what happens. I should be locked up” he said with a bitter laugh.
“Jack!” The determination in her voice caused his torrent of words to stop.
Fixating his eyes with hers she just looked at him for a moment, willing him to understand.
“I’m not the man you knew, Chloe. What’s left is a monster” he said, his voice full of disgust.
She violently shook her head, new tears clouding her vision. Unable to say anything she leaned into him and kissed him. Taken by complete surprise he froze when he felt his soft lips on his, not able to form a clear thought.
When she looked back up at him her expression was dead serious.
“Don’t let them control your thoughts, Jack. None of this is true.”
“You don’t have to…” he tried to begin but she wouldn’t have any of it.
“I trust you, Jack. Nothing has changed that. And I know that you would never intentionally hurt me.”
“Chloe…” he whispered.
“I won’t let them do this to you. I won’t.“
“I can’t promise I won’t hurt you again, Chlo. I can’t do this. I can’t stay.”
“We’re going to find a way.”
“You don’t have to do this” he said, fresh tears in his eyes.
“Of course I do” she said with a small smile. “And now you should try to get some sleep.”
He looked at her for a long moment before taking her into his arms and hugging her tightly.
“Thank you so much, Chloe” he whispered into her hair.
She squeezed his shoulders.
“I can stay if you don’t want to be alone” she offered.
He smiled at her, a hint of embarrassment in his features. “That would be nice.”
She answered his smile. “Scoot over. I’ll just turn off the lights.”
“No!” he said a little too loudly, causing her to start. “I’m sorry, I…”
“I can leave the lights on, it’s alright” she said, climbing into the bed next to him.
“Thank you” he said hoarsely.
She nodded and leaned in to place a quick kiss on his cheek.
“Sleep tight” she murmured.
“You, too, Chloe” he said, “you, too.”