Let those fools be loud,
let alarms ring out,
'cause you cut through all the noise.
Let the days be dark,
let me hate my work,
'cause you cut through all the noise.
When Chandler steps off the end of the gangplank, he's met by a man in a suit who shakes his hand and introduces himself as their driver. The kids are already in the car, and as they walk over, the driver tells him that he's received special instructions from the president to take him to a certain safe house. Chandler doesn't much care, just wants a house with a bed and some reasonable amount of security. He can't shut down, not now that he's the absolute, absolute last thing his kids have, but he needs to at least... decompress.
He sits in the back, Sammy on his lap and Ashley curled up against his side, and they watch the city pass by through the car windows. None of them have been ready to talk, yet, though the kids do keep bursting into tears at random.
They drive out, far out of the city, trading buildings for trees and smooth pavement for bumps, the tires of the SUV crunching slowly over them. They must have driven five hours by the time they start up a road winding up the side of a steep, forested hill. Midway up there's a hidden driveway, and half a mile up that there's a big old house, sturdy-looking.
The vehicle comes to a stop, and Chandler helps the kids down off the high seats. As he's making sure the seat belt is free of the door and closing it, he hears from behind him, "Dad, someone's here!"
Hand moving automatically to the holster on his hip, Tom whips around and sees—he's dreaming. He fell asleep in the car and this is a dream. He looks around, up at the wind rustling the trees, hears the birdsong around him, tries to find confirmation that it's a dream.
Rachel had stopped to crouch down and introduce herself to the kids, but now she straightens up and walks toward him, and he needs to... pinch himself, right. He reaches for the inside of his bicep, the thinnest skin, and pinches hard, inhaling sharply at the pain.
When he looks up again, she's still coming toward him, and it must be a slow-motion dream because he has time to look at her. The last time he saw her was after that party, dressed to the nines, but he must not be dreaming about that. He can't quite place this, but she wore it more frequently, a plain top and jeans, little makeup and her hair half pulled back. The dream must be combining two different events, because he's seen her like this but not in a place like this. Actually, as he looks around again, he's certain he's never been here before. Well, dreams can do that.
She stops walking in front of him, where he's been standing stock-still for however long that took, and looks up at him, furrowing her brow. He stares back at her, wide-eyed, still trying to take in every tiny detail.
Finally, she says, very quiet, "Are you surprised to see me?" and Chandler shuts his eyes at the sound, feeling his chest tighten. Next, he feels her soft hand on his arm and opens his eyes as she says, "Tom," and he looks at her again. "I asked if you were surprised to see me."
"It's a dream," Tom says faintly. "Nothing ever surprises me in a dream."
She'd taken her hand away as soon as she touched his arm, and now she crosses her arms loosely over her chest and says, "I see." She looks at him a moment longer, then adds slowly, "Well, as far as I know it isn't a dream, but maybe you'll feel better after you eat."
It's hard to focus on dinner, but once everyone's stacking their dirty plates it becomes nearly impossible to believe this could be a dream, so he asks Rachel if they could go somewhere to talk. She leads him to the bottom of the backyard, where an old wooden porch swing is set up between two trees. The kids have come outside with them, but stay on the steps under the light, ostensibly giving them privacy.
As they sit down, he turns to face her, not wanting her out of his sight, while she simply faces forward until he says, "I thought it had to be a dream."
Then she looks at him seriously and nods.
"What—happened? I don't understand any of this."
"I haven't been privy to much," Rachel replies, looking out over the yard again. "I passed out in the hallway and woke up here. At first I thought, now, here's the worst case scenario, trapped somewhere with the enemy, about to be tortured, and so on. But no, someone—the president, maybe? Who is the president?—wanted to keep me safe. Not sure why, considering they haven't even given me access to a lab."
Chandler closes his eyes, trying not to laugh or sob or both, and says roughly, "I'm glad they did. Keep you safe."
He feels her shift on the swing before she says, "I asked them—I kept asking them if you were all right, if you knew. All they would say was that... it wasn't safe. They had to keep me safe. First and foremost. Bullshit, probably."
When he opens his eyes, she's turned just a little bit toward him, watching his face, and he presses his lips together, shaking his head. "We had to take the White House. If they'd known about you, they would have been sure to kill you. I'll find out who put you here and thank them myself."
Her eyes widen, her mouth dropping open slightly, and he can't bring himself to tell her yet. There's too much, and it's too painful. He looks away, shaking his head again, and she touches his arm, just as briefly as the first time.
Blinking quickly, trying to stave off another wave of grief, he looks back at her, holding his hands out, palm up, and saying, "Can I—?"
She tilts her head, not entirely sure what he's asking for, but shifts toward him, and he moves forward slowly, closing the gap and wrapping his arms around her waist, drawing her close to his chest and holding her. As soon as she realizes what he's doing she sobs, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck, and then he can't hold back his tears anymore, shaking silently in her arms and trying not to cry on her top.
It's still his fault—all of it, every second she suffered—but to have one godforsaken death reversed is more blessing than he's ever deserved, and his heart is breaking and stitching together at once.
As soon as he can pull away without embarrassing himself, he does, rubbing one hand over her back and then releasing her fully, turning his head away and drying his eyes on his shirt.
They go back inside almost immediately, and Rachel shuts herself in her room while Chandler helps his kids settle in, finding fresh clothes in the dressers and showering before settling into bed with wet hair, both of them in Ashley's bed and Tom sitting with a hand on each of them until they fall asleep. They both cry a little more, and he sits there like a stone, aching with all he cannot heal.
When he comes out of the room, Rachel's door is still shut, so Tom turns off the lights and goes into his own room, closing the door behind him. There are guards outside, not that anyone would come up here for any reason other than... well, killing them all. He keeps his weapon close, finds it almost impossible to relax. His room is at the back of the house, and he stands at the window for a while, watching the yard and the woods around it.
Then he opens his door and crosses the upper floor to stand at the window over the front door. He moves silently, keeping the lights off, and a few minutes later he hears Rachel's door open and close, her light tread on the servants stair at the other end of the house. Sweeping his gaze over the front yard one more time, he turns away and walks down the main stair, following the soft glow of light into the kitchen, where Rachel is standing in front of the quietly hissing kettle, both hands on the counter.
"Hey," he says quietly, moving to the fridge.
"Hi," she says back, glancing up and then returning her attention to the kettle.
He looks into the fridge, thinks about heating up some milk, then looks back over at Rachel and says, "Could I have a cup?"
She smiles softly at that, eyeing him for a moment before saying, "Of course," and reaching up into the cupboard for another mug and the tea. She barely has to move to do it, and he steps over to her side, opening the cupboard again and admiring her immaculately organized tea station. Meeting her eyes, he returns her smile, then sits down on the far side of the kitchen island, leaning his forearms on the counter and watching her.
Her movements are precise and routine and everything about her is exactly the same. He wants to trace her outline with his hands, feel for himself that every part of her is where it belongs. He's held her in his arms and he knows that she is real, is solid, is nothing close to a ghost, but he's still having trouble believing it.
When she finally sits down across from him, wrapping her hands around her mug and staring down into it, he sighs and looks down at his own mug.
"Thank you," he says, and then, belatedly, "How are you?"
"I'm well," she says, nodding once and taking a sip of her tea. "It wasn't so serious a wound; I'm sure you've had worse."
"How are you otherwise?" he asks, and she looks up sharply before turning back to her tea. "Have you been alone here the whole time?"
"Yes," she says shortly. "I'm fine." Looking up again, she eyes his clothes, studies his face, her expression softening, and says, "What aren't you telling me?"
Stomach twisting, he bows his head and closes his eyes. "It's bad," he says, and when he opens his eyes Rachel has moved her hands to grip the edge of the counter, staring at him. "They—they took my kids. They—they killed my father." He keeps his eyes on her hands, watching her knuckles turn white. "It gets worse. Rachel, I'm so sorry. They killed Tex."
She gasps, and he lowers his head, closing his eyes again. "Are you sure?" she asks, and he nods.
"I watched—I saw it happen. I was there—I, I should have stopped it."
"No," she says, voice thick, and when he looks up she's dashing tears away from her eyelashes. "No, of course not. It wasn't your fault."
"It was," he says fiercely. "Tex, my kids, my father... Darien... you, Rachel. I couldn't stop any of it. Why—why couldn't I—" He's trying so hard to keep it together, but all he can do is press the heels of his hands against his eyes, try to hide his shame.
Her stool scrapes against the floor, and a moment later she's at his side, wrapping her arms around his chest and pressing her face to the side of his, saying just as fiercely into his ear, "It's not, it's not your fault, not any of it."
It is, he thinks, and instead of saying it he turns his head and reaches for her face, pressing his open mouth hard against hers. She makes a surprised sound in the back of her throat but doesn't pull away, presses forward instead, holding his face in both of her hands and pushing off the floor with her bare feet. Exhaling hard through his nose, he turns his body more, slides both hands down over her back to her thighs and lifts her onto his lap. She makes another sound, wrapping her arms around behind his neck, mouth still pressed to his, and he wants to hear every sound that throat can make, he needs it.
Arms tight around her waist, he drags his mouth across her cheek and groans into her ear, "God, Rachel, please," and she says back, breathless, "It's okay, it's okay." Kissing her again, he keeps one arm around her waist and braces the other on the counter, pushing his stool back and getting to his feet. She shifts her legs on his waist, hooking her ankles together behind his back, and he stops there for a second, leaning his weight on the counter and panting against her mouth.
"Rachel," he groans again, and she says again, "It's okay." He carries her into the living room, drops her lightly onto the couch and stands, tugging off his shirt as she does the same with hers. Bracing one hand on the back of the couch, he lowers himself over her and presses his mouth to her neck, smooths his other hand over the curve of her waist, up her side and over her bicep, pulling back to press his lips to her knuckles, trace his eyes over her body.
There's an ugly scar, but she's otherwise whole, her neck and chest flushing, and he looks at her mouth, lips red and swollen, and then finally stares into her eyes, pupils dilated and eyelashes damp, and after only a second of that she pulls him back down to kiss her. She arches her back, pressing her chest up into his, and he fumbles at her bra, his hands shaking. When he gets it off and tosses it aside he groans, cupping her breasts in his hands and starting to kiss down her body.
He drops his knees down onto the carpet, unfastening her jeans and tugging them off before moving back between her legs, and he's about to shift forward when she says, "No, no, no," grasping at his shoulder. He looks up, horrified, and she tugs him back up, saying, "It's okay, it's okay, just not that, it's okay."
"Okay," he says, hovering over her, not touching her. "Are you sure? I don't have to—"
"No," she says, "please, please," and arches her back again, fingernails scratching through his hair, and when he kisses her again she surges up against him, no hesitation, and he reaches between her legs with his hand instead, undoes his jeans with his other hand and pushes inside her.
She shivers and he wraps his arms around her back, holding their bodies pressed flat together as he tucks his face into the curve of her neck, exhales against her skin. She shivers again and he kisses her neck, a lump swelling in his throat as he holds words inside, all his might going to keeping them in, staying silent.
A moment later she pushes against his shoulders and he braces his hands on the couch cushion, raises his upper body and kisses her before she can try to avoid his eyes. Then he ducks his head back down beside hers, trying to keep his groans low, only hearing hers because her mouth is right next to his ear. Quiet as they are, her moans and whimpers are incredible, the fact that she's alive to make them is incredible, and he loses a few tears to the couch cushions, hoping she won't notice.
When she gasps and tenses under him and shakes apart a moment later, the tears double, but he lets them fall to the fabric and squeezes his eyes shut tight, almost too unfocused to finish.
"Hey," Rachel says, rubbing a hand over the back of his head. He's stopped moving without realizing it, and she speaks quietly into his ear. "What do you need?"
He exhales hard, turns his face into her hair, and says, "You could talk."
She hums, pauses, says, "Dirty?" and he groans, starting to move again.
"You could just say 'dirty' thirty times," he jokes weakly, but she has other ideas.
Wrapping her arm around the back of his head, she holds on and presses her lips to his ear, speaking in this low, raspy tone he's never heard from her before. "Dirty," she says first, like it wasn't bad enough in her normal voice. "Dirty like you fucking me on a couch in a safehouse. Did you ever wonder what else I'd done on this couch? I guess you didn't have time to wonder if I'd ever shut the curtains and slid my hands down my pants, or even left the curtains open..."
He'd already been close, but it still doesn't take much to bring him over, and, God, that image will be burned into his mind now. Rolling off onto the couch beside her, he lays there for a minute, trying to actually picture it properly. Rachel's already sitting up, looking around for her bra, when he says roughly, "Did you?"
She looks back over her shoulder, smiling like she hadn't meant to smile at all, and eyes him for a moment before saying, "I think I'll leave that one a mystery."
They put their clothes back on and walk slowly up the stairs, one on either side of the wide tread, several feet between them. At the top they hear, "Dad?" from Ashley's room, and Chandler nudges Rachel toward his door, hoping she'll be there when he gets back.
The kids are awake and upset, unhappy in an unfamiliar place and longing for everything they've lost, and he stays and talks quietly with them until they're ready to close their eyes again, stays until they're asleep and then stands up, bone-weary, and walks back to his own room. Rachel is curled up in his bed, asleep, and he climbs in next to her, pulling her in close and wrapping his arms fully around her.
"Hey," she says thickly, fingers curling in the material of his shirt. "Okay?"
He says on an exhale, "Yeah," and smooths one hand over her hair. "Go back to sleep."
She shifts closer, her cheek pressed to his chest, and wraps one arm around his back before stilling, her breathing evening out and her muscles going lax. Closing his eyes, Tom takes a moment to memorize this feeling before letting sleep take him.
Some time later, he wakes abruptly from a nightmare, heart pounding, breath short, to find Rachel watching him quietly, stroking a hand over his hair. He glances around quickly, listens for a moment, and says, "What?"
"Nothing," she says softly. "Just a nightmare."
He stares at her, still listening as he tries to settle his body and convince it there's no danger to be found. The house is silent, and he blinks slowly, not looking away from her. When his breathing steadies, her eyes drop to his mouth and she shifts forward, her fingers trailing down from his hair to his jaw. She kisses him, and he groans low in his throat, nudging her onto her back, and a minute ago he was certain he'd just woken up but now he thinks he must still be asleep, finding her body under his, finding himself inside her again.
In the morning, his bed is empty, and he stares at the ceiling for a while, questioning reality. Everything smells of her, but he doesn't trust his nose, doesn't trust his mind—twenty-four hours ago she was dead, so he gets up and crosses the upper floor in a few quick strides, knocks on her closed bedroom door. She opens it freshly showered, a towel around her shoulders, and he stares at her for a minute.
"Sorry," he says. "I—can I—" and he reaches out with one hand, touches his fingers to her bare arm. Solid. Cool on the surface, warm underneath. He exhales and shakes his head. "Sorry."
"It's okay," she says softly, staying on her side of the threshold, bare feet flat on the floor as she tips her head to look up at him. She doesn't move, doesn't say anything else, and he drops his head, nodding and turning away. Her door clicks shut behind him and he forces himself to keep moving, stopping at Ashley's door and knocking, poking his head in and telling the kids to get up and dressed.