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Falling in Slow Motion

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Annie dreams about Jack’s face the moment before he goes under the bus.

The dream is so vivid she can make out the lines in his forehead, the deep brown of his eyes, the utter look of trust he gives her before disappearing from her view.

Ortiz’s hand is strong and comforting on her shoulder. She takes a deep breath and steadies the steering wheel and swears, praying for a miracle.

And then the cable snaps and like Helen he’s crushed under the wheels and she’s killed him.

Annie wakes, gasping out tears and shaking from the dream, and Jack is there to soothe her. He had taken her home himself after they’d both been debriefed by what Jack called the brass and then cleared by the paramedics.

He murmurs her name, just once, then settles her in his arms and presses his lips against her forehead.

“I’m here,” is all he says as he kisses away the nightmare.

Maybe it’s all he has to say.

***

The funeral and medal ceremony take place in the same week. Jack doesn’t want all the celebratory noise, doesn’t want any of it, not with Harry gone and his grieving wife left behind. But since the press got a hold of the footage from the subway crash, Mac’s hands are tied.

Both Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition have been running it non-stop and the Mayor wants to ride out the nation’s obsession with the hero LAPD officer and the tough-as-nails civilian who helped bring down a terrorist. Not to mention the romance born from it.

“Asshole thinks he can turn it into tourist dollars or some shit,” Jack tells Annie as they make their way back from the cemetery. He’s already pulled off his tie and ditched his jacket in the back seat. Harry would have poked fun at his suit anyway.

Annie looks beautiful in black, sitting in the passenger seat of his Bronco. She doesn’t respond to his rant except to reach over and gently rub the back of his neck. It helps to calm him. She’s been his touchstone since they were tossed together on a runaway bus because some fucker thought he was owed a million dollar payday, but this immediate connection terrifies him a bit, too.

How much they already need each other.

He starts to apologize, but she interrupts him. “Don’t do that. You’re allowed to be pissed.”

She shrugs. “And yeah, the Mayor is an asshole. I didn’t vote for him.”

Jack manages a laugh and Annie smiles, happy to see him lighten a little.

***

Annie is convinced she’ll make a mistake when she goes to shake the Chief’s hand on her way to where he stands at the podium.

She waits for him to call her forward and misses most of his speech. The camera’s are flashing non-stop but she still manages to find some of her bus mates in the crowd. Sam beams at her, his shoulder swaddled, from beside Ortiz and his wife. She finds Mrs. Kamino there too, and surprisingly Stephens as well. Annie wasn’t sure the tourist would make a return trip to LA after the disaster of his first, but he raises a hand to her and she’s suddenly grateful for everyone in attendance.

Like Jack, she doesn’t want all the accolades. But she’s proud of how she reacted, of how they all banded together. Strangers on a bus turned survivors of a bomb.

Her name is called and it shakes her from her reverie. Annie manages to make it across the stage gracefully and the Chief hands her a velvet box containing their highest civilian honor.

She poses for the press and she sees Jack, so impressive in his uniform, and her bus mates stand, all clapping. Sam whistles as the rest of them cheer, and she grins as she wipes away tears.

***

The after party had been a more subdued affair, but equally as hangover-causing. It had become an unofficial wake for the fallen officers. Stories were told, toasts were given and many a shot of whiskey was had by everyone. They managed to close down the bar, and Mac made sure they made it into a cab.

Jack is blissfully drunk, and the distraction of making out with Annie in the back of the cab helps keep the grief at bay. They’re like two teenagers, eager and unaware of the world around them. The ride is thankfully short and Jack’s hand shakes from drink and desire when he tries to unlock his front door. Annie laughs and kisses him again before he can manage the door handle.

He loses the shirt of his uniform somewhere in the kitchen and Annie sighs appreciatively at his semi-naked form. Her eyes glow from the heat between them and Jack very much wants her in his bed. But he hesitates.

“I thought relationships built under intense circumstances never last.” He’s not sure why he says it.

Annie looks amused and continues to unbutton her blouse. “I thought we were basing it on sex.”

He stills her hands with his own. “Are we, then?” Jack asks, voice sober. “Is that what you want, Annie?”

It’s not what he wants, and he hopes like hell she feels the same.

***

Their first real date, after all the hoopla has died down, he takes her to his favourite Italian place for dinner. The pizza is surprisingly good, and Jack introduces him to the owner, Salvatore, a New York transplant who came to escape the bitter winters.

Sal fawns over Annie a bit, and brings them dessert on the house. “I get takeout a lot,” Jack explains. “I’m a pretty terrible cook.”

Annie has seen the inside of his fridge and, based on the number of half-empty Chinese cartons, she has to agree. They pay and head out to wander a bit, hoping to walk off some of their dinner. Jack takes her hand and they slowly make their way back to the Bronco. Annie would love to drive it, but her license is still revoked and Jack’s a stickler about that. It didn’t matter that she helped bring down a terrorist for Christ’s sake, using superb test track worthy skills, no one had offered to reinstate her driving privileges any sooner.

It feels strange to be going so slow when they started at such a breakneck speed. The getting to know you stage from the dating handbook was tossed out the window from the get-go. She doesn’t have to imagine how Jack would react in a stressful situation or worry that he wouldn’t try to protect her from all the bad in the world, because he’d already proven that when they first met.

It’s a hard act to follow but as first dates go, Annie’s feeling pretty damn happy. She glances over at Jack, who suggests they maybe head to a movie or grab a drink.

She shakes her head. “I’ve got a better idea. Your place.”

“Oh yeah?” he says. Making sure she’s ready. Freaking perfect gentleman. Superhuman, maybe.

“It’s not. Just based on sex,” Annie tells him. She grins. “But we should still have a lot of it. Just to make sure.”