AN: I'm not gonna lie - this story is LONG overdue. My apologies to nicdvidmaker and Pisceschikk since it was their prompts that I was supposed to be working with. I'm sorry ladies. I love you both and hope you like this enough to forgive me. ;)
The Prompts: 1.) How John and Joss deal with the 4th of July 2.)Their first kiss (now we know they already had a kiss, but...well, just read)
Thanks to the above mentions ladies for their patience and prompts.
To Chellero for her abuse and cheerleading and for spotting things I missed (Barb says you're my hype-man lol), you're my sis for life, get over it. And to Barb for playing the post-it note game with me digitally and always being willing to read over my stuff even though you're not a big fan of romance.
I feel it burning in my veins
Tired of running from the flames
I've got a starving heart that breaks
You've got a smile that makes it race
If you never risk, then you'll never know
It's like hiding out in the bitter cold
It's true, I know it's true
If you never feel, what you never hold,
Better risk it all to just let go
It's why, I never do
But if love is fire, then I'll burn for you
Yeah if love is fire, then I'll burn for you
"Love is Fire" - Freya Ridings
"You'd think after a decade..." His voice trailed off with a sigh as Reese set his glass on the windowsill. He closed the window against the rat-a-tat-tat of the firecrackers on the street. Every July 4th since he'd been back on American soil, he'd hoped it would get better but it never did. The rapid-fire explosions of the firecrackers the kids loved made him jumpy. He knew what it was, knew he wasn't the only one that went through it and that his case was mild, but he still hated the vulnerability of it. Hated that he couldn't control his body's reaction to it.
He looked over at Bear, curled into a ball on his bed, his body jumping with every loud boom. Even a military dog could get PTSD. Reese gave him a sad smile. "At least we've got each other, huh?"
Joss popped into his mind as she so often did lately. He wondered how she was faring with all of the noise tonight; she'd been through so much more trauma in her time in the military. They'd grown a lot closer in the last few months, after all the trials and safe houses, and coming back from the dead had been dealt with, but it wasn't something that had ever come up in their conversations. Things were still not where he wanted them to be. Every once in a while, he'd see something in her eyes that gave him hope, but there had been no repeat of the kiss in the morgue, even though they'd spent a lot more off-time together. He understood that she was still acclimating to everything. They both were. He was trying to be patient; he knew it would be worth it when it finally happened.
He patted Bear on the head. "You want to go check on Joss?" At the sound of her name, the dog's head popped up and he let loose a happy bark. The dog loved her as much as he did, he smiled. He'd known he loved her, of course, but had never done anything about it. There had never been a good time. He'd been devastated when he thought she'd been killed by Simmons and had berated himself for never telling her. Now that she was back, all bets were off. One of these days soon, very soon, she'd know, too. For now, he was happy they'd found their way back to the friendship they'd shared and even deepened it. He also realized that sometimes you couldn't wait. Shouldn't wait.
Reese grabbed a six-pack from the fridge, his keys from the table, and tucked his gun into the hidden holster at his back.
"Laten we gaan." Bear was up and at the door before Reese even finished his command.
When he opened it, he caught his breath and his heart skipped a beat. Leaning against the door jamb, holding her own six-pack, her other hand about to knock, was the object of both of their affections.
He managed a startled, "Joss. Hey..."
A quick glance, because he was too tempted to linger, told him she was dressed casually. The short, brightly patterned pants and loose white shirt seemed to be in deference to the oppressive heat outside as did the sandals. Her toenails matched the bright blue in her pants. "Of course they did", he thought with a smile. Her hair was pulled up and away from her neck for the same reason. This definitely wasn't Detective Carter tonight. This was his Joss.
Bear immediately sat at her feet and gave her hand a not-so-subtle nudge with his nose. Joss absently reached down to scratch him between the ears. He let out a satisfied whine that Reese could relate to.
"Hey." She spotted the beer Reese was holding. "Oh, sorry, I should have called first; you're going out." She started to back away with a self-conscious grimace.
Shaking himself out of his shock, Reese reached out and caught her elbow. "I was going out, but I was, we were, coming to see you." His hand slid down her forearm to clutch hers. "Please...come in. You don't have to call first, you know that. I might even have an idea why you're here."
Bear trotted in before her, settling himself back on his bed. Joss slid by Reese, a small smile on her lips. "You might, huh?"
He shut the door behind her and leaned against it. When he didn't say anything right away, she turned and caught him staring. He just shrugged and gave her a small but cocky smile. She popped an eyebrow at him in return, but couldn't suppress a grin or the color that brightened her cheeks.
God, he lived for these moments.
"I know why I'm here, but why were you coming to see me?" She set the beer on the counter, pulling two from the container and handing him one.
He twisted the top off, took a long drink, and shrugged. "Fourth of July...fireworks...wasn't sure how you handled all that after everything you've been through. I wanted to check on you since we've never talked about it. Thought maybe you might like a distraction."
"Thanks", she nodded, giving him a knowing, but sad, smile. "It was rough after I got back, there's no doubt."
She let out a sigh and his fingers itched to touch her, comfort her.
"And now?" He watched as she picked at the label on the bottle, giving him his answer. She turned and made her way to his couch, sitting and patting the spot next to her. She kicked off her sandals.
He was transfixed by the way she flexed and stretched her toes before tucking her legs under her. He had it so bad.
When he snapped out of it and sat, he gave her a nod to continue. She took a sip of her beer and a deep breath. "I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. I had a really good support system around me. My Dad helped me find a great therapist, someone who'd been in the military. He kept telling me, 'Jocelyn, even if you don't think you need it, you've been through a lot. Give it a try for me'."
Reese smiled at her attempt to pull off her father's voice. "Sounds like your father was a smart man and knew how to motivate you, daddy's girl." She chuckled and didn't deny it. He ran his hand over hers, sobering. "I'm glad you took him up on it; I know it probably wasn't easy."
She shook her head. "It wasn't, but it wasn't just my service or my injuries I needed help with. It was dealing with Paul and his problems, too. Ones he wasn't willing or ready to get help for. Ones that I finally had to admit I wasn't responsible for fixing. In the long run, it was good for us."
Reese nodded in understanding. "I served with too many men and women who felt like they could handle it on their own. Some of them did. Some of them didn't. I'll be forever grateful to your father."
She looked at him for a beat, acknowledging his words with a slight nod. Then she cocked her head at him. "What about you? Were you just worried about me? Is that why you and Bear were coming all the way across town?"
She pulled her hand out from under his and laced their fingers together.
He swallowed hard. While they touched more often lately, seeming to test the waters, it still knocked him back when she initiated it. Neither of them was very demonstrative, but the small things, the touches, the talks, the moments of comfort they gave and took from each other, made him wonder if it was going to take one thing to push them over that line of friendship they'd drawn between themselves.
She gave his hand a little squeeze of encouragement.
"Well, Bear was worried about you. He doesn't like the fireworks."
Again she gave him the eyebrow but added the head cock he'd seen from her a million times.
"I don't like them much either," he finally admitted quietly, not looking at her. "It's not the big booming ones, but the firecrackers, the ones that sound like automatic fire. They make me jumpy. And it made me wonder if maybe you felt the same."
"Considering where you did your military service, that's understandable. And the time you spent with the CIA..." She trailed off, not wanting to bring up more unpleasant memories.
He nodded absently. "I know. I never had the therapy, even if I probably needed it. I was one of those guys, you know?" He gave a quick shrug. "Better at taking orders than taking advice. Besides, the CIA doesn't exactly encourage openness about mental health issues."
"So, you wanted company; I wanted company, even the dog wanted company, huh? The three of us can be our own therapy group." She brushed her thumb over his, coaxing him out of his memories.
He looked up to see her bright smile, lightening the mood. He visibly relaxed against the cushions of the couch.
"I guess so. What's it going to cost me? I don't have a great insurance plan."
Joss tapped her lips with her index finger, pretending to contemplate the question. "Dinner. And a good bottle of wine. Someplace nice."
Her response was so unexpected, Reese stuttered a little bit. "Jocelyn Carter, did you just suggest we go out to dinner? Together?" He grinned as she blushed. "Like a date?".
She blushed so hard, Reese was afraid she might have a stroke so he decided to cut her a little slack. Rubbing his palm over her knee gently, he watched as she visibly relaxed. "Consider it done. Someplace nice. I think I know just the place."
Snapping his fingers and not giving her a chance to respond with any questions he knew she wanted to ask, he stood, surprising her. "Do you like fireworks, though? If you could see them without the noise?"
"Yeah. I used to love them when I was a kid. I still do; I just don't watch for too long or my nerves get rattled."
Reese held up a finger. "Give me a minute, I have an idea."
Reese leaned against the doorway of his gun closet and watched as she scoped out his loft. He knew it was a beautiful space, but that it wasn't really him. He hadn't added much to it since Finch had gifted it to him. He'd never really had a reason to since, at the time, he wasn't sure he was going to stay in New York. And then life got busy and he just used it to crash and sleep. Now he knew he wasn't going anywhere any time soon. A certain Detective had seen to that. Might be time to ask for some suggestions.
He wasn't sure when it happened - the falling in love with her - he just didn't remember a time when he wasn't. Her "death" had nearly killed him, too. He'd wanted it to at the time. Her "resurrection" had replaced a piece of his soul he had been sure he'd never get back. But it had also put up so many barriers between them. He'd forgiven her for the deception the day he saw her well and whole and realized they'd been given a second chance, but he knew she was still dealing with issues surrounding the whole ordeal. She hadn't been given a choice, not really. Once she'd been healed of the gunshot, she'd been forced into hiding until the trials, her testimony via video in a closed courtroom to protect her, were over. Oh, she'd wanted to testify in person and look them in the eyes, but she also wanted to talk to her son and her mother and the people that cared about her, something she hadn't been allowed, it had been too dangerous. It had broken her heart and twisted any trust she had in the system she'd believed in for so long.
He knew she trusted him - she wouldn't be here if she didn't - but he wondered if she also knew, somewhere deep, that she loved him, too. He could see it in her eyes and the way she touched him, even when she tried not to. She'd done so many things, so many shadowy, illegal things, for him. He'd been so angry when he'd found out. Angry with her, angry with Finch for letting it happen. If he'd known she was doing them at the time, he would have tried to put a stop to them. But she would probably have done them anyway. It was just her way. Righting a wrong, helping those who couldn't help themselves. It was one of the many things that made her such a formidable, unbelievably strong, incredible woman. He'd never met anyone like her and probably never would again.
He knew she could see him in the window reflection, but he didn't care. He wanted her to know he was looking. He watched her back straighten a little when he walked up behind her. He bit back his frustration but didn't let it deter him.
Reese reached his arm over her shoulder and held out the headset. She turned slower than normal and leaned her back against the glass. He would swear until the day he died that she focused on his mouth when she finally looked at him. It sent a shiver down his spine that made him do the same. One day soon he would feel those full lips on his again.
She cleared her throat. "Headphones? Why do we need headphones?"
"Because we're going upstairs to watch the fireworks."
"Upstairs? There's an upstairs to this place? Why am I just hearing about this?" She let out a nervous laugh. "I really need to work for Finch full time."
She stopped talking when Reese tucked one side of her hair behind her ear. He kept his eyes on hers as he tucked the other side back and then traced his finger along her jaw. "These will be more comfortable with your hair back away from your ears."
She only nodded, swallowing, as he situated them on her head. He could tell the way her eyes narrowed slightly that she knew that was bullshit, but let him get away with it.
He tapped her nose with a wink. He knew she couldn't hear him, and he was so tempted...
...but he just lifted her hand and brought it to her ear, showing her where the switch was. He pressed her finger.
"Now, can you hear me?"
Her eyes widened. "Yeah, perfectly. I can't hear anything *but* you. And me." Then she covered her mouth with a laugh as she realized she was yelling. "Sorry. I didn't know I'd hear myself, too."
He let himself smile at her wonder. "You've never used these?"
She shook her head. "Nope. I've heard of them, just never used them."
Reese leaned down. "Then I know what to get you for Christmas; they're great for the range." He gave her a wink. "Or watching fireworks." He held out his hand. "Come on."
Twenty minutes later, beer in hand, Reese found himself standing back a little bit, watching Joss more than he watched the fireworks. She seemed enthralled as she leaned on the railing around the roof of his building. He smiled when she did, held his breath as she gasped, which was made more intimate because he could hear each one clearly. It was driving him to distraction.
"John?" He heard her voice softly in his headset.
"Hmm?" he responded, just as softly.
There was a long pause before she hunched her shoulders and brought her elbows in against her chest, still leaning on the railing. It was a defensive position he recognized immediately and wondered where she was about to take them.
"All those years ago, meeting you in the precinct, I never would have guessed we'd end up here."
He got a nervous flutter in his gut but knew he needed to just let her play this out in her own way. "Watching fireworks with headphones on and having a couple beers in the heat?"
She chuckled. "Yeah, that. And...I dunno...being friends like we are."
The hesitation in her voice told him a lot, like she was struggling to find the right words. He came up behind her, doing his best not to touch her, but bracketing her small frame with his arms on the rails. She started at first but then relaxed again.
He leaned in a little closer even though he knew it wouldn't do any good.
"Friends? Is that what we are, Joss?" He knew better, but did she?
She nodded a quick nod and he felt his heart stutter. He started to pull away, but her hand landed softly over his telling him she wasn't quite done.
"We're friends, John. It took us a while to get there, but we are. That's a good thing."
"I know it is. It took a while because one of us was always trying to arrest the other."
"Or one of us almost dies." She put that last part in air quotes with her fingers. "I'm sorry. I know I've said it to you a million times in the last few months, but I am. I can't tell you how sorry I am. I hurt so many people." Her head ducked down, her guilt still a living, breathing thing.
He couldn't stand it and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "You didn't, they did. Your mother and Taylor, and even Paul, they know you would never hurt them like that on purpose. Any anger they had was directed towards those people, not you. I know you know that somewhere under all of that guilt you're carrying around. They're so happy to have you back. I'm happy you're back; you have no idea."
"You know about guilt, don't you?" She muttered under her breath. "So, you're not mad at me anymore?" She reached up and grasped his forearms, but her voice was soft, almost a whisper.
"Mad?" He tightened his hold on her. "Does this feel like I'm mad at you? I was never mad at you, Joss. I was a hurt that you didn't ask for my help, but I understand now why you couldn't. I've never held any of it against you." He rested his chin on the crown of her head. "I couldn't."
'Why?" Her voice came out pitched higher than usual which made Reese almost laugh.
He looked past her, over the city he'd come to love, and realized that the fireworks had stopped. He pressed a hand on her hip, turning her to face him. Still not looking at her, he pulled her into him, wrapping his arms back around her and resting his chin on her head. His chest felt tight, his heart and body ached for her. He knew it was a chance he had to take. No matter how much closer they'd gotten over the last few months, a big part of him still worried that they weren't on the same page, that she wouldn't be open to the things he wanted for them. Or that she wouldn't want it with him. But, he needed to know. There was only one way to find out and it was way past time.
When she wrapped her arms around him, rested her cheek on his chest, it gave him that last boost of courage he needed.
He reached up and turned off her headset, gently removing it and placing it on the table next to her, then doing the same with his own.
He took a deep breath. "Do you remember the things I told you that night in the morgue?"
He felt her quick intake of breath and the slow nod.
"Do you know that I meant every word? That you changed me, made me...want to be a better man."
She squeezed him tighter. "I know you meant them, but you've always been a good man, you just need to be reminded every now and again."
His heart clenched with her words. He shook his head even though he knew she couldn't see him. He'd never understand how she could believe that, even now, but he knew she did.
"John, I was so worried and so angry that you left that night, that you went off on your own, trying to protect me. I couldn't imagine my life, even at that moment, without you in it."
He felt her stiffen with the realization of what she'd just said.
"Now you know how I felt that night. I watched you die, Joss. Or thought I did at the time. I know we've talked about it a little, but I don't think you understand how deeply that broke me. I couldn't let you go."
She hiccupped an "I'm sorry" into his shirt.
"You coming back, it remade me. It gave me a second chance."
There was a long pause and then she lifted her head to look at him. "A second chance? For what?"
He looked down into her deep brown eyes, a knowing smile on his lips. "To do it right." He gave a small shrug. "And to use both hands this time."
She had just a second to furrow her brows in confusion before he grasped her face in both of his hands, gave her a wink, and kissed her.
He thought he'd prepared himself.
He'd been wrong. So very, very wrong.
He'd spent so much time, before and after, imagining how it would happen, how he'd approach her, and how she'd respond, but he hadn't prepared himself for how perfectly right it felt.
Her lips were softer than he remembered, her skin smoother, and the body pressed against his was the perfect combination of soft and strong.
He couldn't help the smile as he angled for a better approach; her eyes were closed and he could feel her quick breath on his face. When he pulled back just slightly and she followed him, his grin widened. He couldn't help himself. Nope, not what he'd imagined at all, but far better.
Skimming his thumbs over her cheeks, he nipped at her lips and then soothed them with a swipe of his tongue, tasting and testing and memorizing the feel of her just in case she came to her senses. With each pass, he let himself go a little deeper, press a little harder. He tried to pour everything he felt for her into the kiss. There was only this one chance to get it right. The kiss in the morgue had been right at the time. It hadn't been the time for declarations of love, even if he knew now that's what he felt. This kiss, this was the one. Their first. And so far, it was perfect.
It took him some time to surface from the fog and realize that Joss had fisted her hands in his shirt. She wasn't pulling away, she was pulling him closer. She didn't even seem shocked, in fact, she seemed to be enjoying it as much as he was.
When she let out a little moan and pulled him tight against her, he slowed things down just a little and pressed a kiss to her cheek and then her jaw.
"You ok? This ok?"
She looked up at him, her eyes a little glassy even in the dark, which did wonders for his ego, and blushed. "Yeah...yeah, I'm good." She licked her lips, which John caught and followed. "Where did that come from?"
He pulled her into his arms again. "I was tired of fighting it."
She gave him a quizzical look, but her gaze focused on his mouth. Her eyes stayed there as her fingers came up, seemingly of their own volition, and lightly brushed over his lips.
John grasped her hand gently and pressed a kiss to the tips of her fingers. When his tongue sneaked out and flicked over her index finger, she let out a tiny gasp and her eyes shot to his. "Fighting it? Fighting what?"
He took her chin in his hand. "My demons, my fears, my feelings. I'm tired of living without you."
She let out a quick gasping sob. "John..."
He shook his head slowly and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he hoped she could read his sincerity as he focused on her. "We shouldn't be good together, Joss - there are so many reasons why we shouldn't be - but we are. I'm tired of fighting that, too.
I've been a little in love with you since the day we met. I don't even know if I knew what it was at the time, but now... it's only gotten stronger and deeper the more I've gotten to know you. I thought I could wait to tell you. I can't. I don't want to wait for you to get through all of this alone. I want to be there."
He took a deep breath and leaned in as she pressed her hand to his cheek, her eyes full of unshed tears.
"But you have, John, you've always been there."
He pressed a kiss to her palm and took her hand in his, pressing it to his chest. "No, I want to be there. When you wake up from a nightmare. When you need a punching bag or someone to hold you. I want to be the person you turn to for those things. I want to be the one you wake up to and go to bed with. I'm not just a little in love with you anymore, I'm all in. If you'll have me."
She pulled her hand from his and covered her mouth, her tears flowing now.
He held his breath as he watched so many emotions flood her face. He couldn't focus on just one. And then she took his face in her hands and stood on her tiptoes.
"Oh, John." She placed a soft kiss on his mouth and he wrapped his hands around her waist. "You're always the one I want to turn to. I was afraid that you didn't want things to change between us, so I was afraid to ask." She kissed him again, deeper this time, her fingers threading through the hair at his nape. She slid her tongue over his and it was Reese that groaned this time.
He pulled back and brushed back the hair that had fallen into her eyes. "Don't be afraid to ever ask anything from me. I won't rush you. But I want you to know something, Joss...I want you. God, I want you more than I've wanted anything, but we'll take this at your pace. I love you." He punctuated his declaration with a slow, thorough kiss.
When they came down, Joss reached up and wiped the lipstick from his lips with her thumbs. She had a look he hadn't seen before. He couldn't place it, but it didn't make him nervous.
"Joss? Talk to me."
When she looked up at him through her lashes and gave him a warm smile, he knew before the words left her mouth.
"I love you, too."
She slowly brushed past him, sliding her hand over his stomach and heading towards the door leading downstairs. He turned around to watch her sway her hips and he cocked his head, a slow, crooked, smile growing on his lips.
She was about to set the pace.
Joss turned and leaned against the door. With a smile that Reese really wanted to get used to seeing, she held out her hand. "Why don't you show me the one part of your loft I haven't seen."
Thanks for reading!
Note: The headphones in this fic actually do exist. They're not AS noise canceling as I portrayed here, but they're definitely close.