Pairing: Claire Matthews/Ryan Hardy
Universe: AU, post-The Following
Inspiration: Watching Beckett and Castle
Summary: Fluff. After a long day, Claire and Ryan turn in for the night.
Okay, I just had to write something happy.
The door swung open soundlessly as she stepped inside, and she took care to close it just as silently so as not to disturb him. The room was dark—the only light came from a couple of lamps situated on opposite sides of the desk—but the man sitting in the chair hardly seemed to mind.
He was hunched over the desk, completely absorbed in his work. His hands shuffled papers and photographs back and forth as he muttered to himself, trying to keep different facts and theories in order as he searched for illuminating details. She smiled faintly at his method, even though his work ethic troubled her. He’d only been given the case files a couple days ago, but already he’d buried himself in them, surfacing for little more than an hour or two around mealtimes.
Though he hadn’t asked her to do so, she knew now was the time to pull him out. They’d both agreed, all those months ago when he’d gone back to work, that he wouldn’t get too deep into any of the cases. That he’d leave them behind once he closed the file.
Well, he couldn’t start to leave anything behind when it was all spread out before him like a very sick and very complicated puzzle.
She clapped her hands together lightly, finally catching his attention. “Okay,” she called out, watching his hands scramble to cover the contents of the classified files spread out across the desk. “It’s almost one o’clock. Time to put it away.” She stopped walking when she was about five feet away from him and dutifully closed her eyes, warning him, “You’ve got ten seconds.”
When she opened her eyes again, the desk was clear, the classified files closed, and his chair had spun around so he now faced her. “Hey.” He smiled when he caught her eye, and instinctually, she smiled back.
“Hey,” she whispered, stepping closer and dangling one of her hands to touch his as she moved to stand between his spread legs. Her hand found his and she squeezed it briefly. “How’re you doing?” she asked softly. She hadn’t seen or talked to him in the five hours since they’d had dinner and he’d subsequently holed himself up in here to work.
“I’m good,” he replied at once, but he spoke too quickly and she knew it was a stock reply.
“You look tired,” she commented, cupping his cheek with her other hand. When he leaned into her touch, she could feel his stubble scrape against her palm lightly. She silently wondered if he’d made a conscious decision not to shave this morning or if he’d completely forgotten. She really hoped it was the former.
“I feel tired,” he couldn’t help but confess, inadvertently dropping the charade of pretending everything was okay. His lips brushed against her skin as he spoke. She smiled sympathetically, inching closer as she rubbed her thumb against his lower lip.
“Anything I can do to help you that?” she asked quietly, bending down and easing herself into his lap.
He laughed softly, adjusting his legs beneath her weight before pressing his lips against her thumb and admitting, “I think what you’re doing right now is just fine.”
She smiled briefly at him, but it disappeared as she moved her hand to his messy hair. She ran her fingers through it, hoping to comb it back into some semblance of order. It didn’t fall back into place. “You’ve been working too hard,” she muttered with a frown, eyeing the places where his hair stuck up in clumps from when he’d fisted it in concentration. “You know I don’t like seeing you work this hard.”
He leaned forward, pressing his face against her neck, and apologized quietly. She could his warm breath against her collarbone and it made her melt for a moment, and not care about the late nights. She ran her hand through his hair again, for comfort this time, and rubbed her fingers soothingly against the back of his neck.
“Do you want to talk about the case?” she asked quietly, half-hoping he actually would for once.
As always, though, he shook his head. He lifted it from her neck, and offered her an apologetic smile for her efforts. “Not particularly, Claire.”
She hunkered down, leaning her forehead against his so she could look him right in the eye. “You know I won’t tell anybody,” she reminded him.
He chuckled softly, tipping his head to press a kiss to her jaw. “I know,” he murmured, wrapping an arm around her waist. She settled back against him more fully, still feeling his lips against her skin.
“You don’t trust me at all, do you?” she asked, feigning resentment.
“Not at all,” he smirked, playing along as he held her closer. He pressed a kiss behind her ear. “You’re the least trustworthy person I’ve ever met.”
She couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “Is that so?”
“Mm-hm,” he mumbled absently, his mouth more interested in caressing her skin than talking at the moment. She didn’t protest, but simply sat back happily and enjoyed it. When his mouth finally made its way to hers, she was eager to take part. Their lips moved together in near silence for a time, with only soft murmurs and soft gasps for air occasionally breaking through.
After what happily felt like hours, and not just minutes, of gradually building pleasure, Claire pulled back. She felt his lips reach for hers as she did so, but her hands held him in place. She needed to talk to him, and she couldn’t do it when his mind was on something completely different. She touched the side of his face, brushing her fingers against his skin slowly. “You won’t have to go, will you?” she asked in a whisper.
He shook his head at once, pressing a kiss of promise against her hand. “No. I’m not going anywhere.”
That had been one of his stipulations, upon going back to the Bureau after everything with Joe had been resolved: there would be no more travel. No more getting shot at. No risks of any kind. Just paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. Actual consulting.
Ten years ago, a career move like that would’ve ruined him, not only professionally, but mentally. He had not been, at that time, capable of sitting at a desk and pouring over data like an old dog two years away from retirement. But now…
Now, things were different, to say the least. He didn’t mind not being in the center of things, didn’t mind not being the one running after the bad guy. There were others to do that now, men and women more physically qualified than him, and he gladly let them take the glory. They wanted it, strived for it—they spent their entire lives reaching for it, and he thought they should get it. He’d had far too much of it for one lifetime, after all.
Even though they’d never told him in such explicit terms, he’d known when he’d met with the Bureau’s director to renegotiate his standing that they wanted him back in as full a capacity as he could manage. And for a few days, he’d been tempted, really tempted. For a few days, he’d been worried—would sifting through other people’s cases for little bits of information actually stimulate him the way being in the field used to? Or would it just be an echo of what he’d used to be able to do, but could no longer accomplish? Would he be jealous and resentful of those he worked with because, while they actually got things done, he was now nothing more than an extra brain analyzing data and spitting out theories?
Luckily, as it turned out, he didn’t end up feeling that way. Ryan found he actually preferred being a desk jockey to a full-blown agent, though he was more than aware that that outlook was an outlook on his new life, and not an outcome of his job performance. With the way he worked now, he was actually able to stay at home most of the time, and therefore stay close to Claire and Joey and—on occasion—Jenny, when she had a few days off to drive down.
It had almost been a year and a half now since he’d left his apartment and Brooklyn and nearly all of New York behind, and begun referring to Richmond and Virginia and this house he now lived in as his home. It had been the happiest, most peaceful year and a half he’d ever had in his entire life. Sometimes, when he stood alone in the kitchen or the backyard for a minute or two, he liked to just stand there and soak it all in. He didn’t believe it would get taken away soon—thankfully, that pessimism had long since passed—but he did believe it all was worth savoring whenever he had a free moment to do so. And sometimes, those moments were made infinitely better: when Joey or Claire would walk in, sometimes with a purpose, sometimes just passing through—but their nearness always made him happy, always made him smile. So many years ago he’d given up on the idea of ever having a family of his own.
One third of his family tugged at him now, bringing him back to the present moment. “Come on,” Claire said, getting up and grabbing onto his hands to pull him to his feet. “Time for you to go to bed.”
He rose without protest, and walked by her side to their bedroom, even struggling to stifle a yawn as she opened the door. With an only half concealed triumphant smile, she pointed to the bed. “Sleep.”
He followed her order without complaint, and was soon grateful for her intervention. He hadn’t realized just how exhausted he’d been until she’d pulled him away. Now he felt like he was going to fall asleep in a matter of seconds.
He was changing into pajamas when she called out to him from her closet on the far side of the room. “How bad is it so far?” she asked. Her soft voice carried easily in the silent house.
“It’s not bad,” he told her, looking over his shoulder to face her. He shook his head when he caught her eye, knowing the joint gauge they were using. So far, nothing had been as bad as what had happened with Joe, but she was ever nervous that someone just as bad would come along. Ryan took a breath and Claire watched, anxious, for it seemed like he was going to add something else, but he ended up falling silent instead. He didn’t end up remarking upon a body count, as she’d expected, and therefore she knew better than to inquire after one, not if he didn’t think it wise to say aloud. He knew what kinds of things she didn’t want to know.
“‘Not bad,’” she murmured, making her way to their bed, “Glad to hear it,” even though she didn’t sound very glad at all.
Ryan frowned, watching her throw back the blankets and slip beneath the sheets, and wondered what to say. On her best days, she tolerated him working. On her worst, she put her foot down. He couldn’t tell which this was.
“No matter what happens,” he told her as he laid down beside her, “you know I’m not going anywhere.”
“Yeah.” She nodded her head next to him but didn’t turn to meet his eye. “I know.”
“And I’m not going to bring anything down on us,” he reminded her. “We’ve made sure of that,” he stressed, hoping she’d remember all those weeks they’d spent outlining every worst-case scenario and how to avoid them before he’d taken the job. He turned his head to look at her, so she could see how serious he was, but her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling. He could see her answer stick in her throat as she tried to reply.
“I… I know,” she finally answered.
“They don’t use my real name at the Bureau, Claire,” he reminded her quietly. “I don’t even officially work there. I’m just consulting when they need me.”
“They can trace those things,” she told him stubbornly, for what had to be the thousandth time. “They could find you if they really wanted to.”
They could find me by walking up to our front door, too, Ryan thought but didn’t dare say. And that’d be a lot easier. Instead, he comforted them both with lighter realities: “You know as well as I do that there aren’t that many people left on Earth who want to find me that badly.” He waited for her to argue the point further, but she let it drop. Though he wanted to, he couldn’t do the same, not when she had looked so worried. “If you want me to stop, just tell me to stop, Claire.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I don’t want you to stop. You know that.” Though she didn’t like to admit it, she felt obliged to say it anyway: “Working on these cases, it’s good for you. Keeps you active.” Keeps you sober, too, she added silently, still not knowing how she felt about the correlation.
He didn’t fall for the easy out. “If you don’t feel safe, Claire, I will stop.”
She shook her head. “It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” he prompted, confused, not having any idea what else it could be.
She pressed her lips together for a time before finally answering him. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, before finally asking: “What happens when this isn’t enough, working the cases from the sidelines?” Her eyebrows drew up in worry, knitting together, as her eyes searched his face, begging for the truth. “What happens when you want to go back, full-time? What am I supposed to do then?”
Ryan frowned, knowing the answer, but not understanding why she didn’t too. He told her bluntly, as he expected she would for him, “You’re supposed to tell me not to go.”
“And after that?” Claire continued. “When you’re miserable here and all you can think about is going back, what am I supposed to do then?”
Ryan’s eyes narrowed, and his voice sharpened defensively. “Whoa, hold up. When have I ever told you that I’m miserable here? Claire, how could I ever be—”
“You just would be,” she cut in, annoyance breaking through her previously level voice. “You wouldn’t have to tell me; I’d be able to see it.” Her voice fell then, and when she spoke, it was in a scared whisper as she avoided his eye, “You’d be unhappy here.”
“Look at me.”
She shook her head, turning it further away from him.
“Claire, look at me.” His voice was growing strained now. “Come on. Please.”
She held him in suspense for only a couple seconds before sighing quietly and finally rolling on her side to face him. He hadn’t seen her look so serious in a very long time.
He struggled to find the best way to explain, to convince her, that he was truly never going to be going anywhere. He’d meant what he’d said so many times before, that he wasn’t going to leave her.
“It isn’t these cases that make me happy,” he began quietly, locking his eyes with hers. “Do you think that’s what I feel, when I open one of those files and stare at all those dead bodies and read about all the terrible things one person does to another? Do you think I feel happy when I’m working on those things? Do you think I’m that messed up?”
“Ryan,” she muttered, embarrassed, “come on, you know that’s not what I—”
“Going back to the FBI won’t make me happy, Claire. You make me happy. Being here with you and Joey makes me happy. I don’t want to go back to my old life, because it’s what I was doing when I didn’t have you. Do you understand that?” he pressed, emphasizing each word separately. “I want to be here. Not just because I love you, and I love Joey, but because I can’t survive anywhere else. I can’t even contemplate going back to the FBI full-time because I know it would mean we’re over. That’s the only reason I’d go back,” he told her honestly. “If I couldn’t come home to you, at least I’d have the Bureau, and so I could pretend I wasn’t completely alone.”
She looked at the sheets so she wouldn’t have to meet his eyes. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I didn’t mean to say it like I did. I was just—I was worried that you might—”
“I know,” he interrupted, his voice just as quiet as hers. “And I’m glad you said something.” He reached over, cupping her cheek to guide her eyes back to his. “I want you to tell me anytime you feel worried, okay? I want to know.”
She nodded, pressing her face against his hand. “Okay.”
“I’m not going to work late that late anymore,” he promised her.
She shook her head, waving the compromise away. “Work when you have to work. It’s okay. Night’s easier for you, I know.”
“But it’s not for you,” he pointed out.
Though she appreciated the offer, Claire heard herself tell him, “That doesn’t matter. Work at night if you want to work at night. As long as you come out for dinner and eat something,” she added, “and stay for a couple hours while Joey’s around, the rest doesn’t matter. You can head back to the study. I have my own work to do, anyway,” she reminded him.
Ryan had to bite his tongue so he wouldn’t suggest that they do their work together. He knew she wouldn’t be able to grade essays when she was sitting right next to a stack of violent, graphic photographs. Part of him was still surprised she was okay with him bringing his work into the house at all. “I’m not going to keep working this late,” he promised her instead, hoping to find something, say something, that would make her feel better. “I’ll come and be with you, okay?”
“Okay.” A smile turned up the corners of her lips, and lit up her face in the dark room, as she admitted, “I like the sound of that.”
“Good.” He smiled back, rubbing his thumb against her cheekbone before leaning forward and kissing her. “Because so do I.”
Author’s Note: You know, I try to write meaningless happy fluff, and it always gets an injection of angst with these two. Always! *sigh* I guess it’s unavoidable. However, I hope you enjoyed the fic anyway! Please be amazing and leave me some love in a review! :)