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Starving for Mercy

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I can't tell you exactly why it started, but I'm pretty sure that it was mostly my fault.

It wasn't as though I'd planned on it; it was a regular day, same as all the others. We were all sitting around the table, discussing the latest case. A woman was supposed to meet her husband after work for a drink, but she never showed. We were working all the angles: talking to her friends, tracking her credit cards, and pulling her phone records.

And then, we started in on theories. God, I really need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

"Maybe she just got tired of it all."

That one little sentence opened the floodgates. I don't know why. I'd said it quietly, almost to myself, but somehow he heard. I know, because he looked across the table at me with such an...understanding in his eyes. It was like I'd just figured out why he had been so out of sorts lately. No one else saw it, and if they did, they've been keeping remarkably quiet.

I knew he and his wife were...less then happy, let's say. We all knew, but no one said anything. We're a bit like family, but you still don't ask the boss about his love life. You just don't do it.

Three days later, we're stuck in rush hour traffic down by the Trade Center on our way back to the office; clearly, we have time to talk. So we do, but only about regular things: cases we're working on, I mention a training course that's coming up next month, he tells me that his youngest daughter is starting preschool next week. And then, I don't know why, but I find myself breaking the one long-standing rule we have at work.

"So, how are things with your wife? Is everything okay?"

Shut up, shut up, shutupshutupshutup. Don't start. Just...don't. It is absolutely none of my business how he and his wife are doing.

He doesn't give me an annoyed look, or crack that he's going to let me out right here and make me walk back to the office. If Danny had said that, I'm pretty sure he'd get told where to go, and possibly, how to get there. But, no. He just sighs a little and rests his arms on the steering wheel.

"It's...complicated. We've just drifted so far apart; I don't know where we stand with each other anymore."

I'm not sure how I should respond to that. Frankly, I'm quite thrown that he answered me at all. I don't even think he tells Vivian any of this. Also, it's not like I have any experience with this. Yeah, I was married, but once we got tired of the sex (which, honestly, wasn't that good), we simply went our separate ways, and signed the papers. End of story, really.

So I'm stuck in a car, with my boss, and I seem to have put myself in a tricky spot. I can't really blow this comment off and risk sounding like an uncaring bitch. On the other hand, how could I possibly be happy about it?

"Oh. But, you're trying to work it out, right?" Please, god, I hope that sounded as neutral as it did in my head.

He doesn't look at me then, just shrugs and looks out the window. A girl with bright purple hair goes by on her bike. "You know, if it weren't for Hanna and Kate, I'm not sure it would even be worth staying with her."

Holy crap. Is this really happening? Am I truly sitting here, listening to my boss basically tell me that he wants to divorce his wife? This is not happening to me. It's not happening. I'm just going to stare out my window and hope we've ended this line of questioning.

"Well, you've been married before, right? What did you do, once you realized it wasn't going to work?"

Excuse me? Did I just hear that right? He's asking me for marital advice?

I guess so, because now he's looking at me, waiting for a response.

"That was different."

He's got this little smile on his face, the one he gets when we interview someone and they start telling us something we already know. Dammit.

"Really? How so?"

"Because, it was." Way to go, Sam. All those years on the debate team put to excellent use, right there. Try that again, and this time, make some sense.

"It was different, first of all, because there were no children involved. Second, I was 18 years old; I was practically still a child myself. Third, we got married for all the wrong reasons. Fourth… well, actually I'm not sure I have a fourth point."

He's got that look again. "So, what you're saying is that my wife and I should stay married for that sake of our children, even if I'm unhappy, because I'm an adult and should know better?"

"No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that you should discuss this with your wife, and tell her how you feel about it."

Thankfully, traffic let up then, so he could concentrate on driving, rather than respond to what I said.

A week later, we stayed late to work. It was just the two of us; Viv was on vacation, and Danny had to be in court early the next morning. We ordered Chinese food, and tried to catch up on the never ending paperwork that goes along with finding people. As we sat there, we both tried to keep the conversation about work. Inevitably, we failed.

"So, why did you get married, if it was for the wrong reasons?" He doesn't even look up while he says it, just keeps flipping pages and taking notes.

I knew he was going to ask me that. I knew it. He's been giving me odd little looks for the past three weeks. Very subtle, but I've caught every one of them. He tilts his head just the tiniest little bit and glances at me, almost like he's trying to figure out all my secrets without bothering to ask me outright. In the back of my brain, I know this should bother me, my boss looking at me like that. Truthfully, I don't mind that much.

I know what you're thinking, and you aren't even close. I'm not about to throw myself at him just because I know he's unhappy in his marriage. But I can't just ignore him now, can I?

"Well, for one thing, my mother couldn't stand him."

We have a good laugh over that. It's true, though. My mom hated Paul from the minute she met him. I still don't know whether it was the tattoos or the Harley he parked in the driveway, but my mother absolutely could not stand him. I'm surprised she even came to the wedding.

"Yeah, that's usually the first reason. I dated a girl once, when my father was stationed in England, and my mother was furious with me for it; didn't speak to me for nearly a month."

"Really?" Okay, now this is strange. Jack never talks about his family, especially not about when he was younger.

"Well, I mean, she was the base commander's daughter..." This gets us both laughing again. Once we calm down a little, he looks at me and asks me why I really got married.

"I don't know, honestly. I guess because Paul convinced me that it would be a good idea." Jack doesn't say anything to this, just raises an eyebrow at me, waiting for me to continue. Or possibly, explain myself.

"Oh, come on! I was 18 and thought I was in love. I would've done practically anything for him at that point." Why are we having this discussion, again? It's a little disconcerting.

Jack nods, but I can tell he doesn't quite believe me.

"Besides, it's not like I got stuck with a tattoo of his name plastered across my back or anything."

Jack chuckles. "Yeah, I'm not sure I can picture you with a tattoo."

"I never said I didn't get a tattoo; just that it doesn't have my ex-husband's name on it." Wait, what the hell am I doing? When did we start teasing each other like we're in 10th Grade math class? This isn't right.

That effectively ends the conversation, and we manage to get back to work for a while. I can tell Jack is still thinking about it, though; every time I glance up, he's looking at me out of the corner of his eye.


"Nothing." It doesn't help that he can't keep a straight face when he says this.

"Liar." Well, at least he knows I'm joking, so I can't get fired for that.

"It's just...I really can't see you getting a tattoo is all. You really got one?" Why is he so concerned with this? I don't get it.

"Yeah, Jack, I really did. And no, you can't see it. Could we get back to work here, please? I'd like to make it home before the sun rises." If I didn't know any better, I'd say he looks somewhat upset about that.

He looks at his watch then and grimaces. "Shit. I'll be right back; I have to make a phone call."

Once he's gone into his office, I can think. I don't know why I'm acting this way. He is my boss. He is my very married boss. That right there is a big neon sign, flashing, "Stop this right now." Besides which, it's not like I normally flirt with every attractive man I come in contact with.

Oh, what? I'm a Federal agent; they pay me to be observant. Deal with it.

When Jack returns to the table, I don't even bother to look up from the files in front of me. I also don't ask who he was calling. He notices this, but doesn't say anything right away, just settles into more papers. After a minute, he tosses his pen down.

"This is enough for tonight. We should go home and get some sleep." He stands up then, and starts piling the folders. I guess the look on my face said exactly what I was thinking at the time, so Jack amended that statement faster than I've ever heard.

"What I meant was that you should go back to your place, and get some sleep. We'll meet back here in the morning and go over this with clear heads." He shakes his head a little. It's almost like he could tell what I was thinking. I really don't think that's a good thing.

"Okay. I'll see you in the morning." I reach for my coat, and when I turn back, he's just standing next to the table. "You're not going home?"

He shrugs. "No. I've got a few things to finish up, and I have to be back here early for a meeting, so I'll probably just crash on the couch."

"Oh. Okay. Well, I should get going." I put on my coat, not worrying about buttoning it. It's been surprisingly mild recently, considering that it's the end of November.

"I'll walk you to your car." He takes the files from my hand, setting them back down on the table. "They'll still be here in the morning."

We start walking towards the elevators, and all of a sudden, his hand is on my back. It stuns me for a second, but then, I don't know, it's hard to explain. It feels…natural, like that's just how it should be. Except that I know it's not. He is my boss, and he is married. He has two little girls. This is not right.

So why doesn't it feel wrong?

Downstairs, the garage is deserted, and I'm glad that Jack offered to walk me down. Even though I'm carrying a loaded weapon, and there's security cameras every 30 feet, this place still sort of creeps me out at night. That's one of the reasons why Danny and I usually leave at the same time most nights.

Once we get to my car, he turns to me, and I swear to god, he's smirking at me.

"So, are you sure I can't see your tattoo?"

My laughter echoes off the walls.

"Goodnight, Jack. I'll see you in the morning."

"'Night. Drive carefully."

I happen to check my rearview mirror just before I leave the garage, and he's still standing there.


Six weeks later, we wake up together in my bed.