Sunday, April 18, 2010
*thanks Joelle for the picture! Perfect for this one.*
Jon’s knuckles were white by the time MacKenzie pulled into the underground parking in his apartment complex in Soho. He couldn’t sit still and the heat was burning up his neck. He jammed the packet of cigarettes’ in his jeans and closed the door waiting for her to lead the way. He wished more than anything that he was going into his apartment alone, he was used to being alone. Even when he was with Dorothea he was still alone more often than not. He shoved his hands in his pockets and followed her into the elevator, MacKenzie. This woman, had turned his life upside down and taken away his ability to deal with shit alone, and now it ached inside his bones, to be alone right now.
Why him? Why did this gang seem so fucking intent on destroying his life? Every time he thought about Romeo missing, his lungs constricted. And now, clamped inside four walls of steel, his chest grew tight. He rubbed his chest as the elevator chimed on the first floor. He glanced at Mackenzie, her arms folded across the snug dark turtleneck. He hadn’t even noticed her hair was loosely spilled around her shoulders until now--now that the blind panic had started to dissolve.
“I’m starving.” She smiled dangling the bags of Yan’s takeout from her hands.
His belly was in a thousand knots and his head was so foggy he sure as fuck couldn’t think about eating right now. He couldn’t even tease her about stealing most of the shrimp like she always did. He never minded, but loved teasing the holy hell out of her for doing it.
What was this? This thing between them? For a song-writer that could put everything into words and cut through emotion, he was lost when it came to her. Part of him wondered if it was the company of having her around, he’d got used to having no one around. He wasn’t used to something being easy and fitting into his life, the way she had. He didn’t trust something that he didn’t have to work for.
He unlocked the door and let her go first, disappearing into the kitchen. His more than spacious apartment was now suffocating. He dropped his keys and phone into the ceramic bowl and shrugged off his jacket. Christ, he didn’t even know where to put himself. He dug for his cigarettes and slipped out to the balcony. He needed some space to get his head in check, from this, from her—from god. He gripped the raining, thankful that his only company was the quiet him of the Soho streets below.
He’d dealt with situations that had high stakes before and he always found a way to deal with them, or he got someone to do something about it for him. That’s how he operated, but this? God, this rankled him to his bones. He trusted MacKenzie to do her job, but now there was only so much she could do if they wanted him. They’d find a way, he could lock himself in his apartment all day, but hell. That’s so not how he operated. He fixed things.
This he couldn’t fix.
He rubbed his chest absently as Dot’s words rang through his head. She had every given right to protect their kids, but this was killing him. What if something had happened to Romeo? God, he would never forgive himself. How would he even have justified that to Dot? He shakily lit a cigarette and took a deep suck of it, praying that the nicotine gods could calm him down. If not, he’d be moving on to Jack Daniels.
Everything he had worked for all his life could have shattered in an instant tonight. Not only did that scare him shitless, he didn’t like that he didn’t have the control to not let that happen. Fuck.
What had he done wrong? He’d said no to a kid that was tied up in the gangs. It wasn’t as if he’d robbed a convent for fuck’s sake. He had done what any man would do to protect his business and franchise. The ironic thing was he’d done it to avoid any trouble when in reality it had done the exact opposite.
He leaned against the railing and took a deep breath, his arms hadn’t stopped shaking and his nerves were fraying. “Pull yourself together.” He was good at compartmentalizing shit to make sense but this just kept bleeding all over him. He crouched down, his lungs were heavy and his head was pounding. No matter how hard he tried to get it out of his head, the panic of when he thought Romeo was missing kept pumping through him.
“I’m so sorry.” He blinked away a tear and shook his head. This is what they’d reduced him to, he didn’t live in fear—he thrived on it. But not when it had his family at stake. He didn’t hear the slider to the balcony open, so when he looked up, his heart raced.
“Want a hand up?” She held her hand out to him. He blinked away the emotion and nodded, she helped him up back onto footing. He couldn’t meet her eyes.
“I’m fine. Just a long day.”
She nodded and leaned against the guard railing and looked out to the city. “Jon, don’t be hard on yourself about what happened today. I know you will, because you love those kids like crazy.”
He scuffed his shoe and took another puff of his cigarette. “I’m their father. It’s my responsibility to make sure they‘re safe.
“That’s what you did Jon. You trusted me to do it and I did—nothing has happened to them and of course I can’t promise it won’t. But I can promise you this.” She turned and leaned back against the railing. “I’ll put my life on the line to prevent it. That’s what you hired me for.”
The thought still rankled with him that she would give her life for him. He wasn’t stupid, he knew what her job description was, but if it actually happened...He didn’t know if he could deal with that. Not now.
“When I thought he was missing-- “ He cut himself off as the band around his chest constricted again.
She walked forward and rested her hand on his arm. “I know. He’s not though. He’s safe—you can’t dwell on it. Or you’ll make yourself crazier than you already are.”
Vulnerability wasn’t something Jon showed lightly, let alone someone he had some sort of feelings for. “I’m scared Kenzie.” He looked up and met her eyes. She moved her hands and cupped his cheeks.
“Listen to me Jon. This is not your fault, ok?”
He closed his eyes and took comfort in the simple touch. “They didn’t deserve any of this.”
Her thumbs grazed his cheeks lightly. “Jon, look at me. This is not your fault.”
Her eyes were warm, earnest, and her hair fluttered around her shoulders as the night breeze settled in. He’d bared himself and it unsettled him, but she showed no awkwardness in it. He’d doubted in any of the years of marriage he’d bared himself to Dorothea like this, and right now he didn’t want to try to understand what that meant.
“Jon, you’re a good man. A fantastic father, but this is a tough situation. The toughest. So don’t beat yourself up about it —and we’ll be extra careful from now on,. I promise. No matter if they know who I am or not---I’ll stay with you and make sure nothing happens to you. Ok?”
He nodded. “Okay.” She dropped her hands and went to turn to go back inside but he held out his hand on her shoulder. “Wait.” He tugged her in and snaked his arms around her shoulders drawing on the spicy scent of ginger and Kenz. He buried his nose into her hair and sighed. She smoothed her hands down his back until he let go.
“You’re welcome Jon. Now I’ve got wine and Chinese in there...how about we zone out on the couch for a bit? Decompress.”
He chuckled and stubbed his butt out in the can on the ground. “Sounds like exactly what I need to do.” He took a deep breath and followed her back into the apartment. Wine is exactly what he needed, a couple of glasses to settle his nerves and he’d be golden.
MacKenzie needed a minute as she slipped into the kitchen and arranged the Chinese Boxes on the tray. She ached for him, seeing someone as strong as him starting to crumble under the pressure. He had no control over their situation and it had to be killing him. She didn’t blame Dorothea for her mama bear act, but she could have used a little more tact. Jon loved those kids as much as she did.
She carefully balanced everything and carried it back into the living room, where Jon had popped open a bottle of Pinot. She settled herself next to him and took the glass when he offered it to her. He made a lame attempt to dig into his noodles carton. “You’re gonna have to try better than that Jon.”
She reached for the shrimp and offered it to him. “Go on. You know you want to.” It was unnerving to see him with no oomph. Like any man she knew, he internalized his angst and he probably felt weird to have let his guard down in front of her like that.
“Hell, the shrimp? Really?” He speared a piece with his sticks and popped it in his mouth. “When Brian died, did you feel out of control?”
She picked up her wine and took a healthy sip. Jesus Christ. “Yes, of course I did. It was a little different since I was so young. I didn’t know what control really was until I went into the marines. But if you’re asking me did I feel like I’d done something wrong, when really I hadn’t? Yes. I raked myself over hot coals for months over it.”She blew out her breath, he’d been vulnerable with her and she trusted him enough to be with him.
“I can’t imagine losing someone I loved that young.”
“Yeah, it is the worst thing I’ve ever been through.” She smiled, “I often wonder what our life would’ve been like if he was still around.”
Jon leaned forward for the chicken. “He’d probably be on my team.”
She laughed. “And you’d be damn lucky to have him. God, when he threw long, it was just incredible. I miss the game too.”
“You don’t watch anymore?”
She shook her head. “I couldn’t.” She shrugged, and fished around the bottom of her rice box. Football was the central part of our relationship, so I avoided it.”
“I understand that, but it’s been years right? You’re missing out on so much.”
“This coming from the guy that owns the team. I know, Jon. I want to go back to the game, but there’s never been a right time.” Well until I came and worked for you.. She held up her hand. “Anyway, enough of the deep and meaningful tonight.” She knew he wanted to relate to something similar, but she wasn’t ready to dig deep into Brian-land. Not tonight.
“Damn, I forgot the napkins.” She got up and excused herself to the kitchen and took a moment to gather her thoughts. So much was at stake now--his family, him, and now even possibly her life. She’d dealt with this all before and succeeded, she’d just never been in love with the guy when she did.
She fussed around with the empties to give herself a few moments and she knew that she had to be strong for him. Her role as the protector was to keep strong and give him the confidence that she had this under control-now more than ever.
She found hair elastic on the shelf that was probably one of Steph’s and swept her hair back in a ponytail. She could do this. She grabbed a bunch of napkins and turned to go back into the living area, but he blocked the doorway. “Got them.” She held up the napkins.
“Yeah, I was just coming to get some chilli sauce.” He came forward and reached behind her where the sauce was sitting on the countertop. Their eyes met and her pulse quickened as he hovered in front of her. The air between them crackled as her eyes fell to his lips.
In a moment the napkins dropped, the bottle ricocheted to the floor, and his hands shot into her hair. The kiss was hot, furious and melted away tension leaving her breathless as he jammed her back into the countertop. He tipped her chin and angled the kiss deeper, letting his tongue slide against hers. China clattered as he lifted her up onto the edge of the counter and she moaned as he cupped her breast.
She lifted her head as his mouth scraped down her neck, and she wound her legs around his waist. Her heart raced and her hands were desperate to find skin, even if she had to rip the shirt right off his body. The axis had shifted, tipping them off the edge of sanity.
He traced the pad of his thumb over her lips, and for a moment the air fell still. His eyes fell to her lips and darted back up to hers. Her nipple ached under his palm, and she swallowed a groan as his other hand traced up her inner thigh.
“I’m going to bed. The question is,” he drew a lazy circle at the top of her thigh and looked back up at her. “Are you coming too?”