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Being that she ends the day with three increasingly frustrated voicemails from Jake asking her if she could please see about the guard for Malachy's door because they were still waiting and all, Leslie drives straight to the hospital. She'll apologize to whoever's there and see Malachy's shape for herself and at least be able to sleep that night.

At the door to his room she pauses, straining her ears to hear what she'll be interrupting, and she's about to push open the door when she hears Jake's voice clear-as-a-bell say, "Maybe Leslie and I are just a thing of the past."

Not that she's been harbouring secret hopes or anything but still it hits her like a gunshot to the gut, and she would know. She gasps sharply and only just manages to keep it silent, turning her back to the door and looking up and down the hallway, asking herself what she's going to do now.

It never felt quite right, her decision to go with Callum, but she made it and she stuck by it because she thought she had to. Of course Jake should have given up, she thinks now with tears in her eyes, of course he should have long ago. He should have the day they met and every day since, but nothing between them had ever made sense. Except being together, and her gut twists so sharply she almost folds at the waist and of course that's the moment the door opens behind her and Jake says, "Oh!" in surprise and she turns around, not even knowing how to be herself.

"Sorry," she says, voice tight. Everything is tight as she holds her skin together through sheer will. "I came to apologize about the guard and see how Malachy's doing. I was just..." She holds up her empty hand. "Finishing a phone call."

Jake looks at her a bit strangely, though he could have a hundred reasons for it, and he pulls the door open the rest of the way and waves her in. "He's not asleep yet, but elderly and wounded. Mind, he might drift off in the middle of a sentence."

She smiles—tightly—and walks past, welcoming the sight of Malachy sitting up against his pillows and glad to see her.

"Leslie my girl!"

And Jake slips away.

She softens as she gets closer, her smile growing less desperate as she sits on the edge of his bed and lays her hand on his. "How are you now, Mal?"

"Best kind, missus," and he may be a touch overfriendly, the drugs and—she sniffs—a drop of booze bringing out the best in him.

"Quite a day for you, I hear."

"You hear a lot, I reckon," and he's looking at her in that way he has of looking straight through her.

She furrows her brow at him and shakes her head, trying to pass it off, and Malachy lays his other hand on top of hers, patting it gently.

"Don't bother, my dear. He may have said it but he certainly didn't mean it—not yet. I'd say part of him wants to believe it, but that boy." Malachy sighs. "He never was one to let go of a good thing. However much it might pain him in the meantime."

Leslie swallows hard, manages to keep her eyes dry, just. "It's too late now, isn't it Mal? It's past that point, I think."

"You don't think that at all, my girl. You might want to, too. But why go to the trouble of forcing yourself to believe something that isn't yet true?"

She stares at the wall, breathes slowly, blinks.

"Now, my dear. Now is the time," and he sounds just fierce enough that she looks him in the eye, sees his conviction. She nods against her will, stands and squeezes his hand before letting go.

"You'd better be right about this, Malachy."

He grins a fool's grin and she grins desperately back, then steals out of the room.

The office was cleared as a crime scene late in the day, Leslie knows, and she knows that Jake knows. At the door, hand raised to knock, she remembers so many other times—some of them just as terrified. She did it then, didn't she? And this is just another time, isn't it?

She knocks.

When Jake answers, a dull expression turns cautious, edges into curious. Leslie opens her mouth to speak but she can't, she absolutely can't, and Jake lets the door fall open, takes a step back to allow her to enter. She wanders in, already lost, and heads to the desk where they sit, where Jake will hand her a drink and they will sit together for a moment. She still can't speak, just stares into her glass, and from the corner of her eye she can see Jake doing the same.

After a time, he makes a slow quarter-turn, his leg hitching up on the desk, and he puts his glass down on the wood, slides it to the middle of the table and plants his hand there. Leslie swallows hard and then puts her glass down on the wood, slides it to be level with his, hesitates a second before drawing her arm back into herself. But Jake's arm stays there, and it leaves a space open.

It takes all the will she has, all the bravery simmering in her stomach, to push herself two feet in a forward trajectory, into that space. She slides all the way into him, pressing her face into his shirt, and his arm closes around her. When that arm stays sure and strong around her, when she believes it won't slip away, she lets her arms curl around him, turning her face so that her cheek is pressed against his shirt and the solid muscle underneath. Jake's other hand comes up to curve around the back of her head, and they stay just like that.

Just like that, for what feels an eternity, and when she softens in his arms, when she melts into him, he very gently lifts her up and carries her to the couch. He nestles her in the crook of the couch and curls himself around her, and she feels not that everything is right, but that she has found the safety she needs.

Jake wakes up on the floor, not uncomfortable or sore but definitely on the floor, and before he can stretch or get his bearings, he feels a piece of paper crinkle in his hand. He brings it up in front of his face and sees,


I'm sorry

I shouldn't have

I don't know

And a few more scribbles and scratches he can't decipher. Then a line of clear space, and,

It has always been you.

Before I met you, it was you.

Please believe me.


He's sitting up, running a hand over his face and wondering if he has time to shave, when he hears the click of the door and turns to see it push open with Leslie behind it, a tray in her hands, two coffees and a paper bag. She watches him, her wide eyes guileless, as she enters the office and shuts the door behind her.

Looking down at his hand and then up again, she gestures with the tray. "I couldn't say it…"

Jake nods slowly as he climbs to his feet. "That's okay," he says, taking a step forward. "As long as you wrote this with your own hand—" He holds up the paper, ink facing her, and takes another step. "—without a gun to your head—" Another step. "—sometime in the last twenty-four hours—" and he's close enough now that the next step enters her space. He crowds her gently, pushing her back to the door, and she just nods, again and again. Dropping the paper, he raises his hand to her jaw, and says softly, "That's good enough for me."

A familiar blush is stealing up her cheeks and Jake almost smiles before lowering his mouth to hers. As soon as their lips touch she's pressing up into him, and if he had any more reason to be cautious it's gone now. Her free hand goes straight to the nape of his neck, fingers driving through the short hairs there, and the tray, already forgotten, tips out of her hand and onto the floor. She pays it no mind, pressing her body into his and seeking his tongue with hers. Her hand, now free, wraps around his bicep, and she's on her tiptoes. He presses his hand to the small of her back, supporting her there, and as his lips move to her neck his other hand slips under the hem of her shirt.

"It occurs to me," he says against her skin, before pressing a hot kiss to her neck, "you might want to take this slow." His hand trails up the curve of her waist. "Ease into things," and she gasps, "Yes."

His hand stops, hesitates, then begins to draw away, but she lowers hers to press it closer. "After this," she says, panting short sweet breaths against his cheek. "After this, we'll take it slow." She moves his hand up higher, arching into him. "We'll do everything…" He nips at her neck again and she takes a sharp breath. "We'll do everything right."

"After this," he murmurs, as his hand moulds over her bra. "But this feels pretty right."

"It is," she pants. "It is."

He turns his face back again to kiss her mouth, and his other hand plunges into her hair. He has to remind himself to inhale, but when he does he smells nothing but her and his head swims. He would, will, give anything, everything for her, he's found that enough times. But she's turned away from him enough times that he has to ask her now, hardly removing his mouth from hers, "Please, Leslie," and he drinks her in again before saying, "Please, don't leave me behind again."

"No," she speaks into his open mouth. "Not again, Jake. Not again."

And they all lived happily ever after.