Jenni had somewhere she desperately wanted to be. She’d been patient for two weeks. She had plans. She wanted them to be happening now. Naturally, the HQ labyrinth gods were less than willing to oblige her.
Objectively, Jenni was well aware, two weeks wasn’t a very long time. Her patience could stretch to years before breaking. In this case, however, less than one week of illicitly swapping music with Jacques Bonnefoy had been enough to convince Jenni he was worth not waiting for. Somewhere between talking in a silly cypher based on Grease references and discovering a shared fondness for Anthony Head’s singing voice, her reticence had almost completely vanished. During the second week, with its more genuine conversation and serious flirting, she had built up quite a head of anticipation for seeing him in person and learning just how far their compatibility extended.
Now that the time was finally here, it took a real effort of will to think about anything besides the moment she would see him, and he would see her, and one of any number of daydreams she’d entertained would follow. She had been suppressing such lovely thoughts all day, and she was fed up with it. But did Headquarters care? No.
And she was already running late, which didn’t help. Her last client of the day had been a chatty sort, tricky to disengage from gracefully. You couldn’t exactly say to people, “hey, sorry to cut you off, but I’ve got a hot date!”
Mostly it was her own fault, though. She’d fussed over her appearance a bit more than she’d meant to. Getting back into the world of relationships more serious than the odd fling with Lux had given her an excuse to expand her wardrobe beyond the utilitarian, so she had options. Not that Su would have objected to seeing her in jeans and her least-boring shirt all the time (their clothes didn’t typically stay on all that long anyway), but it was nice to dress for an occasion.
Especially when the occasion was in New Caledonia. Being July, it was winter there. That meant a lowest probable temperature of a comfortable 22°C (72°F) and stunningly gorgeous weather.
Jenni was rather hoping to match that description. She’d fixed her hair into a simple but sleek double-twisted ponytail, and she’d picked a deep green summer dress with a layered, gauzy bottom that flowed smooth as silk around her thighs. It transitioned to white at the top with a liminal design of field flowers just below the bust line. It was very her, and she knew it would turn Jacques’ head.
When she finally got to the town center, the clock tower told her it was almost 15:00 already. She gave a little groan, but resisted the urge to break into an anxious jog over the final block. It would be okay, she’d anticipated this, he’d understand. He’d be there.
Jacques stood leaning against the base of the clock tower, one ankle crossed over the other. One hand was in the pocket of his lightweight cream pants; the other held a small tablet, which he was scrolling through and occasionally raising his eyebrows at. He’d rolled up the sleeves of his purple linen shirt in deference to the weather, or possibly just to complete the look. His hair didn’t seem like he’d paid much attention to it, but it did have more of a style than a quick brush would produce.
Jenni paused a moment just to admire the debonair picture he made. Remembering how he’d artfully draped himself over her couch, she didn’t at all put it past him to be doing it on purpose. The thought that it might be for her benefit made her smile.
Of course, she could play at making impressions, too, and was delighted to have the opportunity. She gave herself a final once-over to be sure her dress and her hair were lying right, then approached from an oblique angle. Jacques was really absorbed in his tablet, so Jenni got almost within arm’s-length of him before she stopped. She rested one hand on her hip, tilted her head as though trying to get a look at what was so very interesting, and called out, “Hey, there.”
Jacques glanced up, obviously still distracted, smiled briefly, and went back to the tablet. Seconds later his head jerked up again, and he lowered the tablet to his side with a sheepish smile. “Jenni! Hi.” He looked her over quickly, and then again, and then a third and very appreciative time before meeting her eyes. “You look incredible. Did you wear that to work?”
Jenni laughed. She’d been on the point of laughing at his reaction to her anyway, and the silly question tipped her over the edge. “Yes, clearly this is a look I’ve been maintaining all day, through the FicPsych equivalent of Fall, Fog, and Fire.”
Jacques grinned, showing off the deep dimples in his cheeks. “You must have had some very distracted patients, then.” He lifted the tablet enough to see the screen as he turned it off, and then slipped it into his pants pocket.
With a final chuckle, Jenni shook her head and stepped closer to him. “Got your attention, anyway. Now that I have it: I’m sorry I’m late. I really didn’t mean to keep you waiting any longer than necessary.”
Jacques waved a hand. “We kind of had a range in place, didn’t we? I figured you’d run into something in the end when you didn’t show up. Not that it was exactly a chore to wait a bit, either, what with this weather.”
“Good. And you had something to do,” Jenni noted with a smile and a nod indicating the pocketed tablet. She didn’t trouble to disguise the once-over she gave him and his well-fitted clothes while she was at it. “Business, or pleasure?”
Jacques smiled warmly back. “I’m not completely sure how to classify it. Let’s just say it’s . . . some kind of mixture. I have a feeling it’ll turn into business at some point, anyway.”
“Well, it’s the erotic version of Twilight,” Jacques explained. “The published one; I’m sure there are plenty of others.”
“Oh,” Jenni repeated, both eyebrows raised in dubious amusement. “Interesting choice.” She recalled from his messages that his latest mission had involved Twilight, so she supposed it was merely a sensible precaution and the timing was irrelevant, but she couldn’t resist teasing him about it. “Cards on the table? I’m pretty open-minded, but if you tell me I have to sign a bogus contract at any point, I’m out.” Grinning, she made a dramatic chopping gesture with one hand held flat like a blade.
Jacques grinned back at her, eyes bright with mischief. “What if I have a paperwork kink?”
“I thought we agreed everything was better with less paperwork.” Jenni tilted her head, feigning confusion.
“Well, sure,” Jacques said, shifting more comfortably against the wall. “That’s outside the bedroom, though, isn’t it?”
Jenni chuckled. “Fair point. I have to warn you, though, I’ve never responded well to anyone trying to control me, in or out of the bedroom. I’m a free spirit.” She wagged her eyebrows, inviting him to imagine the implications of that.
“I bet you are,” Jacques said, with obvious appreciation. “Although, who says it wouldn’t be about you controlling me?”
Jenni’s grin broadened. “In that case, it’s a good thing we’re having this conversation about both of our interests and boundaries. Unlike some people, I appreciate the responsibility inherent in the dom’s role.”
“Very glad to hear it,” Jacques purred. “Me, I’m very flexible, but I do try to keep the right amount of responsibility in mind.” He smiled, quick and startlingly sincere on the heels of the play. “I like my fun to stay fun.”
“Absolutely agreed,” Jenni said warmly. “Whatever the details, it’s not fun unless everyone is having it.”
Jacques grinned and reached out to brush his fingers over her wrist. “I knew I liked you. You’re really pretty great, Nurse Robinson.”
Laughing through the thrill of first contact, Jenni slipped her hand into his and let him bring her a step closer. “I hope to earn that compliment properly later, Mr. Bonnefoy. This date’s barely begun.” She winked at him.
“And now I really can’t wait to see where it goes,” Jacques said lightly. “Though at this point I hope I’m right in thinking it won’t be a polite kiss goodnight on the cheek?”
Jenni shook her head, still smiling. “We’ll see, but if that’s what happens I might have to hang up my coat and quit FicPsych. As far as I can tell, we’ve been on the same page since at least that one long night, if not before.”
“My money’s on before,” Jacques said. “That night just made it a little bit clearer.”
“I’m inclined to agree. If only it weren’t for those damn rules—which reminds me.” Jenni held up a finger in theatrical revelation. “I still owe you three answers from your visit. I can give them to you now.”
“Oh?” Jacques shifted, pushing off the clock tower and decreasing the distance left between them. “I like the sound of that. What are these answers, then?”
“First,” Jenni said, “you asked me how long I’ve been here. Ten years as of last month. Second, about Lux: yes, I have.” She paused for cheeky effect.
Jacques smiled at her. “That’s two. What’s the third?”
“Just this.” Looking intently into his eyes, Jenni reached up with her free hand and brushed the back of her fingers along his jaw, echoing a gesture left torturously uncompleted two weeks back.
Jacques chuckled. “My favorite kind of answer,” he said. His hands slid down over the fabric of her dress and settled at her waist, holding firmly as he leaned forward.
Jenni met him halfway, one hand cupping the back of his head and the other pressing against his side. Jacques was a great sport, playing along so nicely with her little game; coming on top of the illuminating conversation they’d just had, the payoff was even more rewarding than she’d imagined.
Their lips brushed gently once, then joined as though magnetically charged. Jacques’ arms wound around her back, tugging her against him; delighted, Jenni held him tight in return. He loosened his grip almost immediately, as if he’d surprised himself, but even so, Jenni could feel his barely restrained enthusiasm in the way his mouth moved against hers, and she reciprocated joyfully.
She was not surprised—she’d imagined this moment too many times to be anything but enormously pleased about it—and she found her resolve to leave the pre-dinner kiss at a kiss being tested as it went on, quicker and deeper. Knowing the two of them were simpatico was one thing; feeling it, tasting it, was electrifying. Jacques really knew what he was doing, and Jenni wanted to meet him on his level and show him she knew what she was doing, too.
Too soon, though, air became a problem. Jenni took the smallest possible step back, just enough to break off without making Jacques let her go. She liked his hands where they were.
“Well!” she said, grinning and panting to catch her breath. Her left hand stayed at Jacques’ side, and her right trailed down his arm, skipping lightly over the fetchingly rolled-up sleeve to brush his skin.
Jacques grinned back, breathing hard. “Definitely my favorite sort of answer,” he said. “Especially after two weeks of flirting. I don’t know about you, but I’m very happy we’re done with that.”
“Oh, shards, yes,” Jenni said, tightening her grip for emphasis; then she blinked and cocked her head. “Not that I’m done flirting with you, not by a long shot. It’s too fun.” She winked.
Jacques laughed. “That may’ve scrambled my words a little,” he admitted. “The kiss, I mean. Believe me, I’d hate to stop flirting with you now; I’m just glad to be done with not being able to act on it when we both want to and even have the time.”
“I get it,” Jenni assured him. “I’m not ashamed to admit I planned that kiss from the first day, for the very first moment it wouldn’t feel horribly taboo. We deserved it—we earned it.”
“We absolutely did.” Jacques traced the line of her jaw with his fingertips, much as he had before not getting to kiss her two weeks earlier. “And hopefully many more. I’d love many, many more. Would you?”
“Hm. Among other things,” Jenni said, turning into his touch. She raised her eyes, and her smile grew wider. “But if I’ve been unclear about my feelings, shame on me. Let me fix that right away.”
She took Jacques’ hand and pressed the palm to her lips, then looped her arms over his shoulders and stretched up to firmly kiss his mouth once more. He eagerly pulled her flush against him. “One more” turned into several more, and Jenni’s racing pulse told her this might not have been the most sensible move, but it sure felt like the right one. Jacques’ earnest caresses of her hair, her waist, her arms let her know he agreed, and moreover that he was prepared to throw exactly as much care to the breeze as she was and not a breath less.
In the arena of attraction, Jenni was used to worrying about other people’s boundaries and limitations. Knowing there was nothing to worry about felt strange, like the bottom dropping out of her stomach in a steep dive a-dragonback or on a broomstick. Good, but strange.
She stopped to peer at Jacques with smiling interest. “You’re really something else,” she told him.
Jacques smiled brightly in return. “I know. Isn’t it fun?” He leaned down to her lips again, cupping the side of her neck with one hand.
He’d found just the right place to touch her, and Jenni answered by curling her fingers through the hair at the back of his head and kissing back with a pleased sound in her throat. Her other hand roamed over his back and shoulder with no conscious direction from her, encouraging him and hoping to reciprocate good feelings.
She retained enough of her faculties to realize this could not continue much longer, though. Some hapless bystanders were no doubt under severe strain to pretend they hadn’t noticed the sparks flying at the base of the clock tower. Jenni made an effort to speak up for their sake.
“So, um,” she muttered, then cut herself off, unable to resist lipping the corner of Jacques’ mouth. He responded by initiating another kiss, which she threw herself into.
When she could manage a few more words, she said, “So this wasn’t my plan, but . . . ?” A crooked smile and a sideways nod suggested that they might want to take it off the street, maybe even back to HQ. It was a shame to turn a perfectly good plan for a date on its head, but it would be even more of a shame if Jacques took his hands off her now.
“Yes,” Jacques said. He ran his hands down her sides, and then back up as he kissed her again. “Oh, absolutely. Whatever you want.”
“I want,” Jenni replied, thrilled to the core. “Very, very want. Have done since you first showed up at my door.”
“Oh,” Jacques said, grinning. He smoothed a hand over her hair, and brought it around to cup her cheek. “I know that feeling. Glad you share it.”
He leaned in again, and she let him, humming in agreement and enjoyment. Counterproductive it might be, but staying apart for more than a few seconds at a time seemed impossible at the moment. It was like she’d found some part of herself she hadn’t even known she was missing. It was ridiculous—her libido was exactly where she’d left it—but worth exploring thoroughly.
Not here, though!
With an effort, Jenni worked her hands down from Jacques’ shoulders and let them settle against his chest, gently kneading through his layered shirts and wishing they weren’t there. But, with her elbows acting as spacers between them, any further smooching would be difficult. Not impossible, she acknowledged with a big grin, but maybe just difficult enough.
“Work with me here?” she said. “It’s not that far to the Door. Really.”
“I’m pretty sure distances triple at times like these,” Jacques told her. One of his hands kept moving, gliding over the fabric of her dress. “New Cal doesn’t seem like the kind of place to have no laws against public indecency, though, so I’m guessing making it back is our best option right now?” He’d started off looking and sounding very distracted indeed; by the end, though, he’d made it back to clearer focus.
Jenni nodded. In sympathy and empathy both, she raised one hand to his face and stroked his cheek with her thumb. “Good thing about New Cal, though: the distance won’t literally increase. And I don’t think we’ll have much trouble not thinking about where we’re going in Headquarters, either.” Her grin was daring. “Want to leave it a mystery whose room we end up in?”
Jacques chuckled. “Yeah, let’s do that. Sounds like a fun sort of gamble.”
“I mean, as long as it’s actually one of ours; let’s make that clear.” Jenni directed a side-eye vaguely upward, to the realm of the Powers That Be.
Summoning her willpower again, she slid her hands down Jacques’ arms and gently disengaged his hands from around her waist. She held onto them and took one step backward, then another. Jacques let himself be towed easily enough, curling his fingers snugly around hers, and they gathered enough momentum for Jenni to turn and walk properly. They continued hand in hand.
The road did feel at least three times longer, she had to admit. They stopped several times for completely necessary breaks to drink each other in. They got more than a few strange looks and cat-calls from other people, too, but those people might as well not have existed for all Jenni cared now.
Eventually, they stumbled their way into what turned out to be Jacques’ RC. With any pretense of restraint long forgotten in a haze of need, it was a miracle that somebody remembered to shut the door.
Jacques tipped his head back against the pillow, grinning widely as he caught his breath. “Got to say, I’m already really enjoying this date.”
“Oh, good. I wasn’t sure,” Jenni teased. She leaned up and kissed him again before settling back down at his side, limbs draped across him. She sighed deeply. “Yeah. No complaints. I think you might really have magic hands.” One of hers wandered languidly up and down his side.
“I am a magic man,” Jacques said lightly, always happy to reference both songs and flirtatious messages. He wrapped one of his arms around her, and was soon drawing small circles against her skin with his thumb; the other arm got tucked behind his head to supplement the pillow. “Though, to borrow a phrase, if I haven’t been clear enough about how I’m feeling here—”
“Shame on you?” Jenni shook her head, nestling more snugly against his shoulder. “No, no. None of that. Absolutely not.” She ended on a chuckle.
Jacques grinned down at her. “So I have been clear enough? Because I’m sure I could get clearer if I had to. Somehow.”
“Now, I can’t say I wouldn’t like to see you try,” Jenni said, fighting back laughter. “Third time’s the charm, after all. But not right away. Later. Definitely later.”
Twice in a row had certainly been satisfying enough for now, Jacques reflected, and had been mutually necessary, too. The first time had been too urgent and ended too abruptly to completely satisfy either of them after all the tantalizing hints of more creativity, so once they’d recovered a bit they had started over, taking the time to get properly acquainted with each other’s bodies. Then they had made good on demonstrating what two people each concerned with the other having a great time and possessed of many, many years of practice at making it happen could really do together.
“Later it is,” Jacques agreed aloud. He pressed a kiss to her hair, which was now gloriously loose and spilling over his shoulder. “You’re amazing, by the way. I know you already know, but sometimes you really do have to point out the obvious.”
For a brief moment, Jenni’s eyes drifted shut, like someone stepping into warm sunlight. “Thanks,” she said, “but it takes two.” She reached up to stroke his brow and cheek, smiling. “I’ve never been with someone who’s been around anywhere near as long as I have. That was amazing.”
Jacques hummed contentedly, his eyes closing briefly at the touch. It was an interesting point. “Same here, actually. I’ve met a couple young-looking people with a century or several to their names, but they have a strange tendency to not be interested.” And wasn’t that a shame. “I’m pretty sure you’re the first, apart from this one time before I met the Doctor—but that species just matured very slowly, so she’d only actually come of age and started . . . getting to know people that way about fifteen years earlier. Completely different situation.” He raised his hand to Jenni’s hair, sifting the strands through his fingers as he let . . . what had her name been, Una’yin, maybe, slip back into passive memory again. “Nothing like you. I’ve never met anyone like you who wanted me enough to act on it.”
“Isn’t that strange?” Jenni mused. She quickly smiled again. “The idea of not wanting you enough to act on it sounds pretty strange to me—but I mean, I’ve had the same experience of anyone counting in more than decades just not being interested. Maybe Reria . . .” Jenni’s lips pursed. “I don’t know how old she was; I just know she was some flavor of vampire. But I’d hardly count that situation anyway. Hilarious little prank with a lust potion in the Lounge, see. Reria was kind enough to let me work it off with her, but we weren’t . . . close. Not like I feel with you.” She curled herself more firmly around Jacques, eyes turned up to his.
Jacques looked down at her, smiling faintly around sudden wariness. He liked her, too, but there was such a thing as too fast! “You feel close to me?”
“Mm.” She nodded. “I know we don’t really know each other all that well yet, but after this . . . and since what you do know about me is already more than most . . .” She paused; Jacques waited, wishing he had a better idea of what she was thinking, and hoping more and more that he wasn’t about to discover that her home universe, whatever it was, had some sort of Twilight-esque concept of insta-soulmates and she had settled on him. That would be awkward.
To his relief, she finally shook her head, looking mildly abashed, and finished with, “I’m glad you kept messaging me.”
“I’m glad you messaged back,” Jacques said, cautiously relaxing again. It was fine; his mind was just wandering in that direction because of his last mission. He could dismiss it, and go for honesty about the long shot that sending Jenni a ‘misaddressed’ ICEP message had been instead. “I wasn’t sure you would, at first.”
Jenni chuckled. “I wasn’t going to, but the songs and musical references did me in. What can I say? I was weak.” Her tone and the way she was running her fingers over his chest said she was not at all unhappy about it.
“I really like music,” Jacques said, smiling. He also liked the way she was touching him. As far as he remembered, both had been touchstones for most of his life, and honestly, if Jack didn’t share that constant, the poor man was really missing out. “It actually helped me with the Sue, a little bit. The one who got me instead of Jack? I couldn’t quite break free of her, but it was . . .” He looked up at the ceiling, trying to put it into words. He hated talking about this, but doing it in bed with Jenni pressed up against him made it more palatable; and it was suddenly something he wanted her to know about him, to understand the new meaning he’d found in being able to use his voice that way. “I was in love with her, but I knew something was wrong. I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly. Singing was pretty much the only way I could express that at all.”
“Oh, hon.” Jenni’s tone suggested that a gesture more overt than the slight tightening of her arm around his middle was incoming, but to Jacques’ faint surprise, she held still. “You don’t know how many stories like that I’ve heard. Mostly, the singer is the culprit, though.”
The corner of Jacques’ mouth tipped up, for all Jenni had sounded a little bitter at the end. “Not this time. There wasn’t much else I could do, so I opted to sing at the culprit.” The hint of a smile stretched easily into a smirk. “‘You’re So Vain’, in fact.”
Jenni chuckled and gave his ribs an approving stroke. “Good for you. That’s more than a lot of people in your position can manage.”
“I’m a stubborn guy,” Jacques said. He glanced down at her. “Maybe it isn’t always my best quality, but it does come in handy.”
“It does, at that.” Now Jenni did prop herself up far enough to kiss him.
Jacques kissed her back, humming contentedly as he slipped his hand into her hair again. There was no ache of need to this kiss, just slow, quiet appreciation.
When it had run its course, Jenni stayed where she was, lightly bracing herself with one arm against his chest. “You know, I have a bit of a stubborn streak myself. I’m not at all upset with how things have gone, but I had this little agenda for showing you around New Cal. Do you still want to do that? We’ve got the whole rest of the day, and we can always come back here later.”
Jacques chuckled. “If that’s how your stubborn streak comes out, I can’t say I mind.” He traced the line of Jenni’s cheekbone with his thumb. “Sure, let’s go to New Cal. I think we had plans for a meal, too—that might be a good idea.”
“Absolutely.” Smiling brightly, Jenni sat up with her legs tucked under her. She started looking at the floor, where their clothes had been haphazardly abandoned, but ended up looking with more interest around the room.
Jacques looked with her, glancing around and trying to guess what she’d take from the view. It was, he’d gathered, the average HQ bedroom. The walls were grey and bare for now; there was a sturdy but not especially remarkable wood-veneer wardrobe against the wall opposite the bed, next to the closed door to the bathroom. A small night table in a much darker shade of wood veneer stood between the bed and the wall, and held an elegantly curved lamp that was one of the nicest pieces of furniture in the room (and had been nabbed from Tony Stark’s uncanonical best guest room). The bed itself was reasonably big, but not firm enough; the sheets, at least, were soft, new, and in flattering shades of light to dark blue.
All in all, it was more functional than comfortable, and had the air of scavenged pieces trying to fit into a cohesive look that remained just out of reach. He’d work on that, eventually.
“An actual bedroom,” Jenni remarked. “What I wouldn’t give for an actual bedroom.”
“It’s nice to have a separate space,” Jacques agreed. He stretched with a sigh. “Bathroom’s through that door, if you’re hoping to find it.”
“No kidding! You’ve got an en suite?” She grinned. “Such decadence!” With a sly glance back, she added, “How big is your shower?”
Jacques groaned, and sat up. “Tiny. It barely fits me.” He reached for her hand with an earnest look. “I swear I’m working on changing that.”
“Hm. Good luck,” Jenni said with real sympathy. “D’you mind if I hop in quickly, though? You did sort of undo all my hard work earlier.”
Jacques kissed her hand and let it go. “Be my guest. Hold on—I’ll find you a towel.” He got out of bed and headed for the wardrobe. It was still only partially full, even with several sets of sheets, largely mismatched towels, and a thick blanket he’d acquired from the Rook Takes Pawnshop in the mix. He picked out one of the plusher towels, in a dark shade of green, and turned to offer it to her. “Here. Matches your eyes.” He winked.
Jenni laughed as she got up and accepted it. “Thanks. I only use color-coordinated towels.” She thanked him again by putting her arms around him, and they indulged in a tight embrace, sealed with a kiss. “I won’t be long,” she promised, stepping away.
Jacques grinned. “I think I’m supposed to say ‘hurry back’ here, right?” The phrase tugged at something in his memory, though he couldn’t put his finger on what.
“Nah, it’s a bit redundant.” Jenni picked up her things. Before slipping into the bathroom, she smiled at him and added, “But I will, though.”
Jacques smiled back. “Good.”
He turned to straighten the sheets, and—
“Hurry back,” he added, smiling cheekily.
It got him a laugh. “You’d think I never spent any time with you!”
“No—I just can’t get enough.” He met her eyes, briefly sincere under the laughter. “Go on, get the sugar. I’ll keep an eye on the cake.”
“You might start the dishes while I’m out, too,” she said teasingly, and turned to get her hat.
“Oh, sure thing, darling—”
He was standing in his little bedroom with the grey walls, hand outstretched to pull the sheets back into place. He completed the motion, then sat down, staring blankly at the wall.
Who was this woman? He’d called her “darling” and felt perfectly comfortable and at ease in . . . whose house was it? Hers? She had been able to pick up her hat . . .
The scene was such a domestic one. Astoundingly so, for a person he couldn’t even identify.
Or could he? Think. They were almost definitely together, between the pet name and the flirting and how very affectionate he’d felt. It would help, of course, if he’d been able to see her face clearly, but . . .
Time blurred details. People, places—even the most important risked some loss of detail eventually. But to so fully forget someone he’d baked with, teased, spoken to like he loved her . . .
The hat, he thought. The hat was the clearest part of all that. Shame a hat couldn’t be used to track someone down that easily.
Would he want to track this woman down, though? He’d forgotten her so thoroughly that he hadn’t realized she’d ever existed, ever crossed his path, until that shred of a faded memory forced its way back into his awareness. What had she done to him? Worse, what might he have done to her? Why did he not know?
There were horrors in Jacques’ past, more than enough for multiple lifetimes. There were details he remembered more clearly than he wanted to, and others that he had managed to compress and desaturate until little remained of them but a nearly colorless summary and a couple associated emotions. Still other events had been suppressed to the point where he knew roughly what had happened, but took care to never pull on the threads that might unravel his layers of preventative muffling.
Was this such a thread? Wasn’t he probably best off leaving it alone?
Jacques was still staring at the wall ten minutes later, when Jenni’s voice shook him from his reverie. “Hey. Everything okay?”
Jacques blinked and turned his head toward her. It took him a moment to come back to the present and smile at the woman standing in his space now. She was almost as put-together as she had been when he’d first seen her in New Cal, with the exception of a simpler ponytail; very different from most of the 1950s hairstyles he’d been thinking of just now as he attempted to place the memory woman despite his better judgement. “Yeah, just got distracted. You look gorgeous as ever.”
She smiled back, but it didn’t entirely erase the concern from her eyes. Thankfully, she didn’t question him. Instead, she walked over to brush her fingers through his hair. “You look very naked. It’s a good look, and I approve, but I don’t think the rest of the population will take it so kindly.”
Jacques grinned. “I’m pretty sure a sizable number of them wouldn’t mind at all.”
“No, you’re right.” Jenni solemnly dropped her chin in acknowledgement of her error. “Within two seconds there would be someone from the Monitor popping out of the woodwork to snap photos, and they’d undoubtedly have record sales of the next issue.” She gave Jacques’ head a few more gentle pets and finished with a touch to his cheek. “If that ever happens, I want an autograph of the page.” She winked.
“You got it,” Jacques told her. He got to his feet, and pressed a kiss to her mouth before going to gather his own clothes. “Give me a few minutes—there’ll be other days to cause a riot.” He winked back at her and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
In private once more, Jacques closed his eyes for a long moment. This was strange, this was—unprecedented. Unexpected.
Irrelevant, he told himself firmly. At least right now. He was finally on a date with a woman he was liking more with every hour; whoever the woman in this suddenly restored memory was, she wasn’t going anywhere, especially if he was right about the memory taking place around the 1950s. He could have another go at solving the mystery later, if it was even possible. The time the problem spent percolating in the back of his mind might even help.
He turned on the water and stepped into the shower. He wondered if it had spared Jenni the perpetual dance between too hot and lukewarm water temperature; it was working well enough for him, for a change, but for all he knew that was down to it having got out the hijinks with Jenni.
Jenni, who was currently probably wandering around his RC, unless she was feeling unnecessarily polite. Besides, she’d already seen the bedroom.
What might she think of the rest? he wondered. He wasn’t exactly uncomfortable with the spartan feel of the living room—after most of a decade spent primarily living in a tiny room under his office in the Hub, he was a little unused to having a living room. The bedroom was another matter: he’d missed having more luxuries there, and had every intention of acquiring them and making it a comfortable, pleasant space. After all, what was there to stop him?
Still, a lack of discomfort wasn’t the same as feeling happy with the space. Just as he was determined to get the shower expanded, so too was he determined to make the living area more comfortable and a little less . . . eclectically furnished. Whoever had lived here before he moved in had managed to acquire and mount a poster of what he was pretty sure was the default Windows XP desktop picture, for pity’s sake (a photograph of three palm trees on a little white sand island with a sailboat off to the side and white clouds against the vivid blue sky overhead). He was definitely looking forward to replacing that with something a bit more his style.
Jacques shook his head as he turned the water off, and reached for his towel. Once dressed again, with his hair toweled dry and quickly styled, he padded out into the living room and took a quick look around. There was the poster in its wooden frame with the charming knife marks. The mission gear on the battered metal desk below it didn’t look too embarrassing: weapons, a partially eaten bar of Swiss Bleepolate, some DVDs. Several packets of an unholy cross between commercial instant soups and military ration packs sat on top of a half-full cloth bag; he was happy enough to wait to find out what their attempts to thrill his taste buds would be like on the next mission. That was all against the west wall; the little kitchenette took up most of the northeast corner of the room, while the ubiquitous console squatted against the north wall. Across from the console sat the squashy brown couch he’d hauled in with Luxury’s help. Apart from that, the only notable objects were the bookshelves scattered around the room, and that primarily because they had so little on them.
(He knew. He was working on it.)
To his amusement, Jenni turned out to be looking at none of it. Instead, she stood in mutual regard with jack harkness the mini-Reaper. Jacques’ unlikely roommate was a gangly brown creature with the appearance of a spider crossed with a bat; as he approached, it shifted on the top of the lockers next to the front door, glaring down at Jenni with malevolent red eyes. Jenni gazed back, appropriately wary.
Jacques laughed softly as he stopped at her shoulder; Jenni turned and smiled at him. Jacques smiled back.
“I see you’ve found jack,” he said.
Jenni winced; like many of the veteran agents Jacques had met, she had apparently picked up the knack of hearing incorrect capitalization. “Jack?” she repeated with an ever-so-subtle correction. Then the penny dropped. “Wait, like, that Jack?”
“jack harkness,” Jacques said with a nod. The mini screeched but otherwise didn’t move. “He’s a mini-Reaper. Don’t worry if you see him flying into things—he’s a Torchwood mini, so he can’t fly in a straight line. Something about being from a spin-off show. Doesn’t seem to hurt him, though.”
“Yeah, I’d heard that about spin-offs. Huh.” She gave the mini a second, thoughtful look, then shrugged and slipped her hand into Jacques’. “So, all set?”
Jacques nodded, seeing no reason to linger. “Let’s go. Back later,” he added to jack, who turned away disinterestedly.
“We come from the same badfic,” he told Jenni as the door closed behind them. “The same chapter, even. I figured it made sense for us to stick together.”
“Ah, that explains it. I wouldn’t have expected—” She cut the thought short with a brief shake of her head. “I understand now.” She squeezed his hand.
“Mm,” Jacques said, wondering briefly what reasons she’d come up with for him to want such a reminder of his origins around. He squeezed back, then set off down the hall. “So, however will we keep ourselves distracted this time?”
Jenni hummed thoughtfully. “I don’t know. What do you usually do?”
“Alone, or with someone else?”
Jenni smiled. “I got a good idea of what you like to do with someone else. It might work a second time, but I’m not sure I’d trust the Powers That Be that far.”
Jacques chuckled. “Fair enough. Alone . . . actually, a lot of the time I just sing something.”
“Yeah?” Jenni looked up at him with the interest of someone who has just been offered an unexpected treat.
“Well, I do like music,” Jacques said, and winked. “How about it? Want to sing with me?”
Surprisingly, Jenni’s demeanor shifted to acute embarrassment. Her cheeks reddened, and her grip tightened on Jacques’ hand. “The thing is . . . yes, I would love very little more than that. It’s just, someone like me? I have this ingrained fear of the DIA coming to get me.” She gave him a watery smile. “I sing to Henry, because I’ll be damned if I ever let anyone stop me from singing to my baby, but that’s different from . . .” She gestured to the two of them. “You know. This.”
“Hm,” Jacques said. He raised their clasped hands and put his free hand briefly on top before letting them swing back down. “Well, what if we sang something very silly? Something that would never be a Sue’s first choice? No solos, either, and we can be very careful not to actually compliment each other’s voices.”
Jenni laughed. It seemed to relieve some of her tension. “That sounds fantastic. Any suggestions?”
Jacques smiled. “How about ‘Time Warp’? It’s silly, it’s fun, and there’s no focus on singing really well.”
She gave him an amused side-eye. “Sure, but ‘Time Warp’, though? I know you like Rocky Horror, but I didn’t think that one would be a go-to for you. Unless being comedically on the nose is the appeal?”
“Hey, what kind of time traveler would I be if I couldn’t sing about it sometimes?” Jacques said. “Besides, it’s a fun song. You can get creative with it, dance along . . .”
“Hm, true. It’s . . . astounding,” Jenni stated deadpan.
Jacques grinned. “Time is . . . fleeting.”
“Madness . . . takes its toll—and I’d know!”
Jacques broke down laughing. “Oh, that’s good.”
Jenni grinned and laughed, too. She recovered with a visible effort. “But . . . but listen closely!”
“Not for very much longer!” Jacques’ voice wobbled slightly from the laughter, but it firmed as he went on. “I’ve got to . . . keep control.” He winked at her, because really, why not?
That set Jenni off again. “Well, so much for control!”
“I’m frequently uncontrollable,” Jacques said, mostly straight-faced. “Also very good at making other people lose theirs.”
Jenni tilted her head at him and seemed on the point of saying something a bit wicked, but a quick glance up the hallway ahead stopped her short. “Oh, for the love of little green dragons.” She gestured for Jacques’ benefit.
The Door to New Cal had decided to put in an early appearance.
“Doesn’t that just figure?” Jenni said. Jacques wasn’t sure if she was more disappointed or relieved to be saved from having to come in on the first sung line of the number, and he tucked his curiosity about it away to examine another time.
“Guess we’ll have to save the Time Warp for later,” he said. He shook his head. “Oh well. Come on, let’s go to New Cal!”
Jenni waved at the Security Dandelion minding the Door as they walked up. “Hi again. Sorry about earlier!”
If I had eyes, they might be bleeding, said the Flower, sounding slightly shell-shocked. Stay gone . . . longer, at least? Please?
“That’s the plan,” Jenni said.
Jacques smiled at the Dandelion, and leaned closer to Jenni as they passed it to murmur, grinning, “But then again, it was last time, too . . .”