Pairing: Claire Matthews/Ryan Hardy
Summary: In the aftermath of Joey's abduction, Claire and Ryan resort back to familiar comforts.
Author's Note: I really don't know where this came from. I have another story I've been working on like a madwoman, racing to publish, but when I woke up this morning and sat down to write, this came out instead. I hope you enjoy it.
Background: This story is set right before the scene pictured below, and then departs from canon partway through.
It was surreal—so surreal as to be almost unreal—to wake up and see her lying beside him again. It was so strange that, for a few seconds immediately after he woke, he actually thought he’d gone back in time. Why else would she be sleeping next to him, naked, like this? Why else would they both be here, together?
He reached out a shaking hand to touch her bare back that faced him and ran his fingers against her smooth skin in silent awe. She didn’t wake, or even shift in bed. He kept his hand there, suspended.
Maybe he really had gone back in time.
But then the memories from last night hit him, barreling over him like unrelenting waves with no goal in mind except to beat him down until he drowned, and he knew this wasn’t the past.
He still couldn’t decide if that was good or bad.
He stood to the side, watching the federal marshals as they secured the locks on Joey’s bedroom window, reinforcing the glass and making sure that it was tamper-proof. He hadn’t said a word—neither had she—but if he felt unsatisfied with the security measures he knew she had to, too. He held his tongue until Turner and his technician left the room, and then he walked over to her.
“You don’t have to stay here, you know.” He plastered a weak smile on his face and tried to keep his tone light, but he wasn’t sure if it worked. “We…” He reached out, placing his hand on her shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting and convincing manner. “You know, we can take you someplace else. Someplace you’d feel safer.”
He watched, waiting for her answer, as she sat still as a stone. She had her head turned to the side, her eyes focused on his hand on her shoulder, and just as he was about to remove it and offer something else, she reached up and took his hand in hers and removed it from her shoulder. He swallowed, suddenly nervous as he looked down at her. Worries flashed into and out of his mind, each one overtaking its predecessor as his neurotic mind spun out of control.
Why did you touch her? She doesn’t want you to touch her. Who told you to do that?
She doesn’t want anything to do with you. If you aren’t informing her about the case, you need to leave her alone.
Why did you think this was a good idea? What’s wrong with you? Just go.
But instead of dropping his hand and letting it return to his side as he’d expected her to, she drew it close and lifted it to her face. His breath caught in his throat when she kissed his palm and then pressed it against her cheek. His mind swam when he felt the warmth of her skin beneath his skin. He never thought he’d touch her like this again—he never thought she’d let him touch her again.
Slowly, she got to her feet, lifting herself up to equal his height. They stood, barely inches apart, and looked one another in the eye. Her hands reached out from her sides to take both of his in their grasp, and when she leaned forward, he thought he was going to pass out from so much physical contact from her in such a short window of time.
She looked him in the eye as she spoke, without shame or inhibition, admitting: “I feel safe with you, Ryan.”
He swallowed, knowing he was supposed to reply in some way, but he had no idea what to say. It took all of his concentration to simply keep breathing.
She didn’t seem to mind his lack of response, however, for she continued anyway: “But I don’t feel safe here.” She let go of his hand then, but before he could even being to mourn the loss of her touch, she’d reached forward and pulled him into a hug. Her lips were at his ear then, all at once both a devil and an angel, whispering—pleading and tempting— “Take me somewhere where I’ll feel safe. Please, Ryan.”
It should have been incredibly worrisome just how easy it was to take Claire away from her home and off to a secreted location, but at the time, he hadn’t cared. At the time, all he’d been thinking about was her. Her light kiss, her firm grip, her whispered words… All he could think about was how he could be alone with her.
It was only now, as he lay and bed and replayed all the memories from last night in his mind, that he thought about just how much he’d risked her life by moving her the way he had the night before.
He should’ve said no.
He should’ve told her that he could stay and sit with her, but that under no circumstances was she to leave the house.
And certainly not alone with him.
But he’d ignored all that—ignored protocol and higher thought and basic common sense—and given in to his emotions and instincts and all the feelings that he’d thought he’d buried eight years ago when he’d left her. They’d all become unearthed, of course, the moment she’d come down those stairs and looked him in the eye and said his name, but that didn’t matter.
He should’ve been able to control himself.
Now, he stared at her and struggled to declare a victor of the internal battle that was waging within him, he knew none of the potential courses of action would be good ones. He knew nothing could come of this, of what had transpired between them last night. He knew it would only make things harder later, to pretend like things were okay now. And worst of all—if that letter he’d sent was any indication—Ryan knew Joe would find out about this and exploit it for all it was worth. Ryan couldn’t bear to think about what that lunatic would say when he found out his and Claire’s eight-years-in-the-past relationship wasn’t quite as short-lived—or as in the past—as Joe had once once thought. Ryan already had to sit through more than enough of Joe’s taunts; he couldn’t go through that again, not about this, and under no circumstances would he ever put her through that again, either. Especially not now that Joey was missing.
Ryan knew he had to move fast if this was going to be kept a secret from Joe. They had to go, now. He had to get her back home before someone saw them together and put the pieces in order.
Claire yawned quietly as she woke, slowly coming to while enjoying the feel of someone’s fingertips resting lightly against her back. Without having to even turn her head, she knew who it was, and just thinking of him in that way brought a smile to her lips. She closed her eyes, reliving the events from last night in her mind over and over again as she relished the feel of him lying next to her. She took her time, holding out as long as she could before turning over.
Though she was desperate to see him—to touch him, hold him, kiss him—she knew the moment they both woke, they’d have to leave. They couldn’t stay here forever, and something told her that they weren’t exactly supposed to be here in the first place.
Ryan might not be an agent of the FBI anymore, but he still worked for them, it appeared, and she knew from experience that there were unwritten—but nonetheless very strict—rules about these sorts of things.
She thought about it as she lay there, and wondered if it might be better if he was taken off the case. Maybe then Joe would lay off if Ryan was no longer involved; maybe then she’d get Joey back.
Maybe then they wouldn’t have to do this in secret like it was a criminal offense.
“Shouldn’t there be agents around?” She couldn’t help but look over her shoulder as he slipped the electronic key card into the slot of his hotel room’s door. The machine beeped, and the light turned green, and they both listened to the door unlock in the silence of the hallway.
Ryan turned the knob, but he didn’t push the door open. He forced the knob all the way downward to keep the lock from clicking, but then he held his hand there, waiting. She looked over at him, confused at his hesitation, before she recognized the look in his eyes as he stared at her. She could see the question there, the plea, and she knew she had to let him know that this was no hoax or short-lived, disingenuous decision.
She gave him a faint smile, putting a hand on his arm and squeezing it in silent reassurance. “I’m sure,” she told him, answering his unspoken question and hoping to quell his worries.
He stalled just a second longer before finally pushing the door open and ushering her inside. She glanced around, her eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness of his unoccupied room after the bright fluorescence of the hotel’s hallways. He didn’t move to turn o the lights and neither did she. In the dark, she could begin to make out a bed, a desk with a chair, and a small door that most likely led to a bathroom. The room was small and sparse and she couldn’t help but think that federal agents deserved nicer accommodations.
Her eyes wandered over the bed against the far wall, lingering on the perfectly folded sheets and plumped pillows. Though Claire knew a maid had probably come in to change it earlier in the day, she couldn’t shake the feeling that Ryan hadn’t slept in it. He looked so tired these days, and she couldn’t help but wonder how long it had been since he’d rested. Though she knew she had no reason to want this, at least not anymore, she really did wish he’d take care of himself. Maybe, she thought to herself, we could help each other fall asleep tonight. There was no doubt in her mind that so long as Joey was gone, she wasn’t going to be able to spare a single minute for something as trivial as sleep.
“There aren’t agents in the halls because we don’t want people to know we’re here,” Ryan answered after they’d both stepped inside and the door had shut behind them. Claire turned, watching him lock the door—first the deadbolt, then the door latch. She half expected him to bring the chair over from the desk and put it in front of the door as well, but when he turned around, he didn’t seem to be looking for something to barricade the entrance with. “We have agents posing as security guards and receptionists.” He jerked his head back to indicate the far side of the hall. “Weston’s at the far end and Riley’s at the entrance. Some of the other agents are spread out through the hall, and on other floors. The rest are housed in separate hotels.”
Claire nodded slowly, wondering silently why he was telling her about the layout in so much detail. Was he trying to make her feel safe, like she’d asked him to, or… Or was he possibly trying to warn her that they might be overheard here? Was he therefore giving her his permission to go ahead? Did he already know what she wanted from him, what she needed, craved? What she’d longed for for years?
She trailed her eyes over him, trying to puzzle it out. She didn’t get much, for his expression was so unreadable these days, and his outward appearance did little except tear at her already shattered heart.
He looked so damn tired, it nearly fatigued her just to look at him.
He’d only been working the case for a few days, but already he looked like he’d been on duty for years. He looked overworked, but more than that, he looked scared. Stressed. And worst of all, already defeated.
She bit the inside of her lip, unconsciously remembering a time when she’d been able to make all that go away. A time when she’d been able to make him feel better, no matter what was plaguing him. She wondered if she still could, and if he’d appreciate it now like he used to back then.
There was really only one way to find out.
She made up her mind quickly, but paused to take a fortifying breath before stepping forward. She wasn’t exactly surprised to find that she was still nervous when it came to approaching him. Despite her earlier confidence back at her own home, now they really were alone. Now he could reject her at any time if he wanted to. She didn’t know if she could take that—not again, not today, not after Joe and not after Joey.
Fortunately, he didn’t end up being as hard to convince as she’d thought. After just a few kisses, the man she’d known from all those years ago—who’d kept her warm and happy and satisfied through all those late nights and early mornings—resurfaced. He backed her towards the bed, no longer hesitant, no longer even questioning, and that made her wonder if maybe she wasn’t the only one whose feelings hadn’t changed over the past eight years.
From the way he touched her and kissed her and whispered her name with such reverence, she could sense that he wasn’t gone from her—not yet, not completely.
She could still bring him back, she knew it.
Claire smiled now as she remembered last night, and she let the rest of the memories of those dim but blissful hours wash over her as she finally rolled over to face him. She wasn’t surprised to find him staring at her when she turned over, but she did have to admit that the sharp seriousness in his eyes disappointed her.
Was it really so much to ask for, to have a moment—just a moment—of the fabled morning after? After a night like last night, didn’t they both deserve it?
She didn’t bother asking these questions aloud. She knew, in their world, that yes, it was too much to ask. In their world, no one deserved anything. So she held her tongue, but she refused to play along with whatever Let’s-brush-it-under-the-rug agenda she knew he had in mind. Last night was too important to be thrown away like that. She would never forget what had happened, and there was no way she would let him do so, either.
She reached over, searching for his hand, which she quickly found, and then looked up at him as she fit their hands within one another’s. “Good morning,” she whispered, squeezing his hand gently.
She took it as a good sign when he squeezed lightly back. “Morning,” he murmured softly.
She smiled faintly at him, catching his eye as she leaned forward. Though he didn’t stop her from kissing him, his lips were passive and unengaged beneath hers. After only a few seconds, she pulled back, discouraged, saddened, and more than a little worried. If they hadn’t both been lying naked in bed together this morning, she would’ve asked herself if last night had really happened. But she knew it had, and now only one question remained: Did he regret it?
Before she could lock up her heart and muster the courage to ask, he shifted up into a sitting position in bed, and informed her quietly, “We should get dressed.”
Claire stared at him, biting down hard on her lower lip so it wouldn’t tremble at what she couldn’t help but think was an answer to her unspoken question, and watched as he got up and began searching for clothes. She tried to bury his words, tried not to see them as an answer, because they couldn’t be. They just couldn’t be, not after what he’d told her last night. She stayed where she was, watching him, and focused on evening her breathing. Finally, just after he’d pulled on his pants, she decided she’d gained enough control of herself so her voice wouldn’t crack in front of him.
“Ryan,” she called out.
“Your clothes are over here,” he replied, not even sparing a glance for her as he gestured to a spot by the wall and pulled his t-shirt over his head. She rolled her lips together, wondering if she should bother to point out to him that he was putting on the same clothes that he’d worn yesterday. Someone was bound to notice, and after the way they’d left, there would be questions.
“Ryan, we need to talk—”
“No, we don’t,” he answered at once, shaking his head as he cut her off. “I need to take you home, Claire. That’s all I have to do.”
Too shocked by his harsh response to protest immediately, she ended up not saying a word. Silently she gathered her clothes, and by the time they were both ready, she wondered—honestly wondered this time—if she really had imagined all that had happened last night.
They didn’t speak again until they pulled up in front of her house. Claire looked around as he put the car in park, and was relieved to see that everything seemed to be same as it had been yesterday. She hoped no one had noticed when she and Ryan had snuck off last night. She knew he’d probably had to call ahead—both last night and this morning—but she didn’t mind unless people knew specifics. As far as she could tell, no one knew specifics.
And, it seemed like as long as Ryan was working with the FBI, no one would.
She wished that thought didn’t make her so sad. Not too long ago, she would’ve loved to have everything be secret and hush-hush between them. Things were easier that way. Things were personal and private and right that way. But after the way he’d acted this morning… She didn’t want to be the only one who knew what has transpired between them. It was too easy for him to ignore her that way.
She listened to him turn off the car and pull the keys from the ignition as she thought. She knew she only had a couple minutes left with him here—possibly only a couple seconds if he wasn’t going to walk her to the door—and she had to make them count. If he was never again going to acknowledge that something happened between them last night, then she at least had to know the truth before they went into radio silence.
“What you said last night,” she began, keeping her voice purposefully low because she didn’t trust it not to break at a higher decibel, “did you mean it? When you said you… You…” She trailed off, shaking her head. She couldn’t even say it anymore. Not if it had been a lie. “Did you even mean it, Ryan?”
“Of course I did.” To her surprise, he answered right away and—somehow—even ended up sounding insulted. “Of course I meant, it Claire.” She stared at him, barely able to revel in the miracle that was his honest answer before questions overwhelmed her.
“Then why…” She frowned, not understanding his quick turnaround. “Why did you act the way you did this morning, Ryan? Why are you trying to pretend like nothing happened between us?” she demanded. “After what you said? If you meant it, then why—”
“I’m not pretending,” he interrupted. “I’m not trying to ignore last night—I would never want to do that—but Claire…” He sighed, and she watched, curious, as he averted his eyes from hers when he next spoke. “Joe knows about us,” he told her, as if she didn’t know—as if she hadn’t had to suffer through his interrogation first-hand— “he knows we were together and he knows we broke up and I…” He shook his head. “God, Claire, I don’t want to give him any more ammunition than he already has. I really don’t. Not after how he talked to you.” Ryan shook his head, as if trying to rid the memories from his mind. “So he can’t know about this; no one can know about this, okay? Because I know it will somehow get back to him and then…” He looked back at her, his blue eyes pleading with her now instead of ordering. “For now, I… I just want us to act like nothing’s happened, all right? We still don’t know who he might have working for him, and I don’t want the wrong person to see us…”
Claire nodded, not needing him to continue. “I understand,” she murmured, embarrassed for not having thought of this obviously complication before and upset that she’d suspected him of not caring for her. Humiliated that she’d gone so far as to imply that he didn’t—
“Do you, though?” he pressed, the sharp edge in his question cut through her thoughts. She blinked, surprised at the tone of his voice, but she supposed she should probably get used to this side of him by now.
“Yes,” she answered, certain. “I understand, Ryan. I get it.”
“I don’t want to have to do this to you, Claire, trust me, but I don’t know what else to do.” In a rare break from his usual stoic demeanor, his face twisted in a mixture of frustration, sorrow, and anger as he looked at her from the driver’s seat. “I don’t know how to keep you safe from him, Claire, I really don’t, but I’m trying—”
“It’s okay,” she interrupted quickly, recognizing the turn his explanation was taking and knowing that soon he’d be pinning all of Joe’s crimes on himself. “Ryan, it’s okay. It’s not your fault.”
He barely seemed to hear her. “I’m so sorry about Joey,” he whispered.
Hearing his name hit her like a punch to the gut, and where she’d been eager to dissuade him of his missteps earlier, she had nothing to say this time. She could barely speak. “Y… Yeah,” she finally managed to eek out, her voice barely audible.
“You know I’ll find him,” he told her urgently, shocked back into himself as she folded into herself. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find him.”
Claire nodded again, biting her lip now to hold herself in check. Every time she thought of Joey… “I know,” she managed to choke out. “I know you will.” She sucked in a breath, lifting her head and forcing a smile in his direction as she reached for the car door’s handle. She couldn’t talk about Joey anymore; she had to get out of here. “Well,” she declared abruptly, “I should go.”
“It’s okay,” she interrupted. “You stay here. We don’t need to be seen together any more than usual, you’re right, and I need to get back.” She opened the door and stepped out. She was just about to walk away when something held her back. She couldn’t just leave him like that. Not after what had happened between them. “Thank you,” she whispered, turning to face him as she held the door open. “For last night.” She looked across the car at him, struggling to get the words out as his intense blue eyes stared at her; they seemed to pierce all the way through her soul. “You don’t… don’t know what that meant to me,” she forced out, stumbling over her words now, “to… to be with you again after all this time. I…” She bit her lip, holding back the rest she wanted to say as she remembered where she was. There were federal agents and local cops all around. They were walking by, standing guard, setting up headquarters…
Ryan was right. Any of them could be listening in. Any one of them could be feeding information to Joe. It was better not to risk things, no matter how much it hurt to stay silent.
She forced a quick smile onto her face, nodded at him once, and then stepped back to shut the door. She hoped he’d remember what she had told him last night and realize that it still held true. That it would always hold true. Just because she couldn’t say it out loud didn’t mean she didn’t feel it. She looked his way one last time before headings towards the house, hurrying to her front door before anyone could ask any questions.
The second she’d left the car, he knew he couldn’t let her go, not like that.
He’d been stupid to try to put distance between them this morning; that had been a dumb plan. It had only made her worry and the last thing she needed on top of everything else was to worry about him.
He pocked the car keys and quickly made his way after her, dodging through the maze of police cars and law enforcement officials. He lost her for a few seconds, but finally spotted her on the front stoop of her house. He called out to her just as she was walking inside, and though he realized he was going against his own advice by drawing attention, he couldn’t hold back. “Claire!”
She turned at the sound of her name being shouted—as did a few nearby officers—but Ryan ignored them, and instead jogged his way over to her side. She stopped there, waiting for him to catch up and meet her before asking, “What is it?” Her voice was hushed, and he knew she was nervous that he had some amendment to their previous conversation. He’d seen the way she’d looked at him before she left, and he knew there were things she’d had to leave unsaid that she would rather have spoken aloud.
He felt he same way. And he’d found a way to fix it.
He glanced around, throwing a quick look in every direction, and quickly became aware of the fact that there were far too many people around. He wished they’d done this at the hotel, in private, where they both could’ve taken their time with one another. But it was his fault for trying to nip their night together in the bud, and now—rightfully—he was paying the price. He knew they couldn’t step away together; after their joint disappearance last night, Parker and the rest would be understandably suspicious.
He cleared his throat, relieved to see that when he cast another look around, everyone seemed to have gone back to their jobs. Even so, he knew that didn’t mean they were in the clear. “I just wanted to tell you to be careful,” he informed her. “And that I promise we’ll do everything we can to find your son.”
Claire’s lips flickered into the smallest smile as she stared at him, and when she stepped forward to hug him, he knew she’d understood what he had been trying to do. He doubted there was a single FBI agent or local police officer who hadn’t seen them hug each other at one time or another during the investigation, and if this was the most privacy they could get—stolen moments amidst the crowds—then he’d have to learn to take it and she would, too.
He felt her press her face into his shoulder for comfort and thanks, and he put his chin on hers, turning his head so he could speak directly into her ear and say the words neither felt safe enough to speak aloud in her driveway before.
It was a difficult battle to tear his lips from hers, and an even greater one to paused long enough to fill his lungs with enough oxygen to speak. Every instinct in his body told him to keep going, to never stop, to never, ever pull away from her. When he finally was able to string together a couple words together without gasping, he spoke: “I want—want to tell you something.” His whisper was ragged and strained, but at least he knew she could hear it. He stared down at her, gradually slowing his body down to a standstill inside hers as he held himself above her. “Claire, I need to tell you something.”
She nodded along, clearly too preoccupied with their ongoing reunion to pay his words much attention. “Go ahead,” she encouraged, but her hands were clutching at his back and her legs were spreading wider beneath him, and he wasn’t sure if she was actually interested in anything he had to say when their completion hung in the balance.
He closed his eyes, bending down to cover her mouth with his. She kissed him back at once, and he couldn’t help but smile at the fierce and demanding feel of her lips working against his. Even though he was nervous to get the words out, and therefore impatient to have it all in the open, it made him happy to know she still wanted him like this, even after all these years. He hoped she still would even after she heard what he had to say.
In reply to her aggressive kisses, his mouth moved slowly against hers, and after a time, she seemed to realize something important was about to happen. She pulled back, her hands cupping either side of his face as she looked up at him.
“Ryan,” she began softly, “What… What is it you wanted to tell me?”
He smiled softly at the anxiety in her voice, and turned his head to kiss the inside of her hand just as she’d done to him less than an hour earlier. He shifted himself above her, freeing a hand so that he could touch her face, stroke her cheek, and look through the darkness and into her eyes as he confessed, not bothering with a preamble, “I want to tell you that I love you.” He drew a breath, closing his eyes briefly before continuing: “I’ve been in love with you for years.” He blinked down at her, and he wasn’t sure, but he was half-certain he could see something watery swimming in her eyes. “I’ve been in love with you since before we decided to try, and ever since we decided to stop—I decided to stop,” he corrected, anger flaring sharply at his blunder. He sighed shortly, ducking his head, and hoping she wouldn’t take offense at the intention he hadn’t meant. He bent down to kiss her, to apologize. He kissed her once, twice… The kiss didn’t end right away and, soon enough, they were back to where they’d been before he’d interrupted. Their bodies were wrapped up around each other’s, with the sheets twisting around their ankles and their chests heaving for air. When they broke apart this time, it was by her choice.
“You love me?” she asked in a shaking whisper, staring up at him with a mixture of fear and hope so potent it nearly broke his heart to look back at her. He could see real tears now, and not only were they swimming in her eyes, but falling down her cheeks as well.
He wiped them away as best he could with one hand, and bent down to kiss away the ones he couldn’t reach. “Yeah,” he whispered back, his lips trailing down the side of her face to her neck. “Yeah, I do. I really do.”
Claire shut her eyes as she buried her face into his shoulder and listened to him say again the words she never thought she’d live to hear. She wrapped her arms around him tight, not caring for a moment who saw or what they thought. She replayed his whispered words in her mind over and over again, letting them mix with his confessions from the previous night, and for a few seconds, she lost herself in the unadulterated joy she felt when she heard them. When she cleared her head and was certain she could reply properly, she pressed her face against his neck and shoulder and did so.
“I love you too, Ryan.”
The words leaked out of her sounding far more natural than she’d ever expected. For only having said them a handful of times to him in her lifetime—and with all of those occurrences taking place in the past twelve hours—she had to admit she was getting the hang of it rather quickly. That made her smile, and she pressed her lips against the closest bit of his skin she could reach. She felt his arms tighten around her in response, and she shut her eyes, giving into his closeness for a brief moment.
Her homicidal ex-husband was leading another murderous rampage and her son had just been kidnapped, but, as she stood there in the comfort of his arms—much like she’d lain in them last night—she realized she’d rarely felt happier, or safer.
And for now—for this one short, stolen moment in time—nothing else mattered.
Author’s Note: Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you thought of the story in a review below!