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hold my own I won't

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She gets fired twice, the week it happens. The first time was because she didn't show up to work; it was hours before her identity leaked to the media and she was reinstated. Turns out being a hostage is a pretty good excuse for not going to work. She'd take finding a new job over the hell of a day she had, but no one asked her.

If she and Jack are basing their relationship on sex, she thinks, they're off to a good start. They spend the first half of the night entangled in each other, until they've worn each other out enough to sleep. The adrenaline fades as her eyelids close, her ear pressed to his chest and hearing the steady thump-thump. She wakes the next morning and takes deep breaths to clear the last strands of dreams away; vague images of clocks and tick-tock counting down echo in her mind, but they didn't reach zero before her eyes opened. She dresses, feeling unsettled, and can't sit for more than five minutes at a time.

The media attention doesn't change the court's decision; there's nearly 30 days before she can drive her car again. (Her driving the day before isn't exactly a convincing argument of reformed behavior.) Jack leaves her place first; he's got a debriefing session, and wants to find out where his car ended up. She kisses him before he walks out the door. "See you later?" she asks, hopeful.

"Yeah."

The admission floods her with warmth, which lasts all the way to the bus stop. She watches the bus pull up, and the screech of the brakes leeches every bit of heat from her body. It takes the bus driver yelling at her for the third time before she can make her limbs move. "No, it's fine," her numb lips say, and she waves him on.

She stands there, frozen, long enough for the second bus on that route to stop. She finally turns and walks back home. She calls her work and feigns a sore throat and fever, then fidgets on the couch for a bit before turning on a daytime soap. Jack finds her still there that evening, but doesn't ask about her day—or volunteer anything about his.

They have sex that evening—several times—motions nearly frantic, as if they're trying to climb inside each other and never leave. When she relaxes afterward, she opens her eyes to her worst nightmare. She's back in the subway car, cuffed to the pole, bomb strapped to her via a vest. This time, instead of the remote detonator, there's a loud clock, seconds ticking down to detonation. Jack shakes his head at her sadly. "Can't help you this time, sweetheart," he says. She's calling, pleading to him, tears running down her face. She wakes up gasping just before the countdown reaches zero. All of that was just a f***ing nightmare, she realizes. It takes a couple minutes for her heart to slow back down.

She gets up to use the bathroom, disentangling herself from Jack. She wipes her eyes dry while sitting on the toilet. When she leaves, Jack's there in the doorway. "Drank too much this evening," he mutters as he passes her on his way in. He drank only one can of beer with their take-out, she remembers, but she doesn't feel like calling him on it. She lies in bed, eyes staring at the glow of the alarm clock on the bedside table. It reads 3:24 a.m.

When Jack slides back into the bed, he reaches for her, and she turns over. Their lips meet, eager, insistent. She loses herself in the sensations, drowning out the memory of her nightmare.

She leaves the apartment earlier the next morning. Jack's got her spare key now, says he has some things to deal with, but he'll be back that afternoon. She walks block after block. The bus route is the quickest way to her work, but it's not the only one. There's a subway line that gets pretty close, but the nearest stop is far enough out of her way to add 20 minutes to the commute. She pays for the ticket and walks through the turnstile—and freezes in place when the doors open. She can't take her eyes off the pole twelve feet in front of her, and people jostle her as they stream past. The train's pulled out of the station before she can blink. Her hands shake as she drops the ticket in the trash and leaves.

She walks aimlessly through the streets for hours; it's another warm L.A. summer, sticky heat settling into every nook and cranny, but she keeps shivering. She has no destination in mind, eventually ending up at the grocery store nearest her apartment. The mundanity of shopping grounds her again. She buys enough food to cook for the two of them, and carries the bags home. The handles of the grocery sacks cut into her hands by the time she gets it all inside, but the pain is real. She can do real.

Her answering machine's blinking red, and she presses play. She's been fired again—no good excuse this time, her boss says. She doesn't know how she would begin to explain if she tried. She puts the groceries away on autopilot and sinks into a chair.

She's putting together the ingredients for spaghetti and salad when Jack walks in. His face goes from somber to puzzled in one second with a subtle change in his eyebrows. "Thought you were working today," he says.

"I, uh, got fired," she tells him, eyes on the tomato she's chopping. She's not sure whether she's relieved or frustrated that he doesn't question her further.

He helps her prepare the food, and they chat the whole evening. All light, easy banter—favorite music, favorite movie… the kinds of things they'd have talked about if they'd gone on a real date. When Jack mentions a nice restaurant he knows, she almost laughs. Trust them to do it all backwards.

She wakes past three a.m. again, shuddering. Her breathing is heavy and she clings to Jack, all warm and solid underneath her upper torso.

"You OK?" Jack asks, stroking the hair on her scalp with his fingertips.

It's a minute before she can speak. "I… dreamed the bomb was strapped up to me again. And you left, and I had to watch it count down…" His arms tighten around her. "I had the same dream last night," she confesses.

He presses his lips to the crown of her hair; she can sense him breathing her in. "I dreamed I couldn't get you undone, and he escaped, and…" he trails off. "I've watched it go off each night now."

"I'm OK," she whispers. "You saved me."

"And I didn't leave you." He tilts her head back, kisses her again. "What happened with your work?"

She ducks her head, burying her face in the warmth of his upper chest. "Couldn't get there. I tried to take the bus yesterday. Subway today…"

"Ah." He's quiet for what feels like ten minutes. His next words are barely audible. "I sorted out Harry's burial today. Should've taken care of the will too, but…" He sucks in a breath suddenly.

She kisses his shoulder. "Tomorrow?" she asks.

"Yeah." He breathes out slowly. "Come with me?"

"Yeah."

They lay in the dark, his fingers tracing designs on her back. She leaves lazy kisses across his chest. There's no rush, no acceleration. She's nearly asleep when he speaks again. "You'll get through it," he assures her. "The bus and subway. It takes time."

"You'll get through it, too," she says. "Harry."

His arms tighten around her, almost imperceptibly. A minute later, he says, "I thought we were basing this relationship on sex. I mean, intense experiences are out." She can hear the hint of a grin in his voice, and matches it; she needs the lightness as much as he does.

"Well," she begins, "the way I look at it, we survived two bombs in one day."

"So what, we're invincible?"

"Together," she says.

"Yeah," he says after a bit. "Yeah, you're right."