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Holding On and Letting Go

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“Hey.”

She’d found him. But she always did. He wasn’t surprised. It was one of the things in life that made him feel safe. It was something he could depend on. A safety net that he never knew he’d ever have.

“Hey yourself. What are you doing up?”

She shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep. You?”

“Join the club.”

She sat down beside him at the hotel bar, and ordered a cocktail. The silence wasn’t awkward, but it somehow felt heavier than it normally did.

She glanced over. “So... how are things going with Max?”

“They’re going I guess. It’s tough with us being away so much.”

“I can imagine. But she seems to make you happy.”

“She does. It’s been nice.” But she’s not you. And she will never be you. And I know I have to accept that. Deal with it. Come to terms with it. But somehow it hurts more than it did when I used to be able to sit back and pretend.

She was looking at him out of the corner of his eye. He could feel the scrutiny. “Can you see a future?”

He knows he should lie. That what she needs to hear is that he can, that she needn’t worry about him wallowing at home in misery until his old age. But he’s tired. And she’s his best friend.

“No.”

He sees the tiny movement she makes at his honesty. She puts her drink down and turns to face him straight on.

“Why? You guys seem to really click.”

“We do. And it’s nice, it truly is. But it wouldn’t be fair to her.”

“Because of the job?”

He can’t do this. Whatever Dutch courage he had 30 seconds ago has clearly worn off. “You know what, bedtime sounds really appealing right now.”

He gets up to leave but she puts a hand on his arm to stop him. “Spence...”

She’s not the only person in the world to call him that anymore. Everyone else used it periodically. But nobody says it like she does. It just drags the honesty out of him.

“Because I would hate to be with someone when I wasn’t their first choice. And I just think it would be selfish of me to do just that to somebody else.”

Her hand was still on his arm, and he felt her fingers tighten just for a second. He couldn’t look at her face. He knew what was coming. He knew it since the moment she had confessed her love for him.

“You mean like I’m doing with Will?”

That made him look up. Like she’s doing with Will? Why does she look so sad?

“No, that’s not what I mean. Will’s your husband and the father of your children. That’s different. Let’s face it, that’s not exactly something I can compete with.”

“Spence...” He has to stop torturing himself with this conversation. He patted her hand that was still on his arm and turned to walk towards the elevators. He knew she’d follow. It still limited the time available for anything else she had to say.

“You don’t think I wish I had that with you?” She sounded so sad. So small. After all these years he just could not wrap his head around why it would affect her so much now that he was alone.

“Jennifer, I’m alright. Truly I am. I promised you I wouldn’t let this come between our friendship, and I’ve kept that promise. We don’t need to hash this out again. Let’s just go to bed, ok?” You’d think the elevator would be quicker considering the time of night it was. He started stabbing at the call button even though he knew it wouldn’t speed anything up.

“I knew I was in love with you when Hankel took you.” That stopped him short.

“I had every intention of telling you, Spence. But it didn’t take me long to realise you weren’t in the right place for me to do that. It wouldn’t have been fair. And then I met Will in New Orleans... I just thought he’d be a good distraction.”

And he was everything I wasn’t and you moved on.

The lift doors opened and the two of them stepped in. JJ leaned over to press the button for their floor when he didn’t make a move.

“And then things just happened you know? Life happened and just kept on moving. And before I knew it...”

“I know. And it’s ok.” He glances over and smiles at her. It’s a sad smile, one filled with regret, and it makes her heart ache. The doors open and they make their way down the hall towards their rooms.

“Well, this is me. Goodnight, JJ. See you in the morning.” He can still feel her standing there, unmoving, staring at him, as he turns to pull out his keycard and open his door.

“Do you know what the three greatest moments of my life are?”

He sighs and turns back around. “Please, JJ, let’s just go to bed. Please.”

“I mean number one and two are obvious, bringing Henry and Michael into the world, and if I was like everyone else I guess number three should be marrying Will. But it isn’t. Number three is the moment I held you after I told you we were bringing you home from prison. Spence, everything changed then. Everything. My world was off kilter the entire time you were locked up. I spent so much time with your mum because she was my connection to you. Because there was nothing else I could do for you. Because I loved seeing her with the boys. But holding you after all that time? Only the birth of my children has ever been more of a rush of emotion. I know you think I don’t love you with the same intensity as you love me. I know that’s why you think I can stay married to Will. And I didn’t lie to you in the hospital. I do love Will. But it’s familiar. It’s comfort. We work. Sometimes I think we only do because I spend so much time away. It’s not fair on him. It’s not fair on you. It’s not fair on me. But life’s not fair. And I know it’s easy for me to say because I’m the one who gets to go home to a husband and kids. And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Spence.”

She couldn’t stop the tears from falling. She didn’t want to cry. Not now. She knew what her tears did to him and it wasn’t fair.

“JJ... Jennifer - please don’t cry? I’m sorry, I know -“

“Don’t apologise. Spence, you have nothing to be sorry for. Please. I missed out on the love of my life because I just couldn’t bloody wait and managed to potentially royally fuck up five lives in the process.”

She glanced up at him and saw how tired he looked. “Go on, go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

She turned towards her door, and felt him barely grab her hand. There was nothing insistent about it, she knew he was giving her the opportunity to act like she didn’t feel it. But how could she?

“I love you too.”

It was like her world stopped. Through all of these months, the few conversations about her confession, he had never said it back. She’d known, of course she’d known, but he had never said the words.

“I know I’ve never said it out loud. Part of me felt like I didn’t have to because it’s always been so obvious how I feel about you. And hearing you say you love me is both the greatest and most painful thing, and I just... I didn’t want you to feel that pain.”

The silence was back. It was still heavy, but this time it didn’t feel stifling. It did feel charged though, and she knew that if she turned around she wouldn’t stop. Spence deserved better than that. Will deserved better than that. She gave his hand one final squeeze before pulling away.

“Goodnight, Spence.”

“Goodnight, Jennifer.”