DISCLAIMER: The Bionic Woman and its characters are the property of NBC. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This has taken far longer than I thought it would, but I rather like the final effect. There is a companion piece, which appeared first, as part of the 72hr challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Lesley Mitchell
She had known it was a risky tactic. After all, she wasn't stupid. She didn't need to be told that their offices weren't a place that just anyone strolled in and out of, but she had no other options. After the kid had dumped her so easily while they shopped, there was no way that she could trust her. And, since her life was already, apparently, in danger, taking her along to meet Sarah Corvus was hardly a reasonable choice. She'd known that Jonas would be pissed with her, but he'd more than likely back down when faced with her reasoning. Ruth, for all her support in their earlier meeting, would be more of a challenge. Jaime just couldn't read the woman, but she suspected the psychiatrist would be no more pleased with playing nursemaid to a bratty Canadian than she was.
The look Ruth had given the girl could have curdled milk. It had promised that the hours that followed would not be the best of the teen's short life. Jaime hadn't cared. She had wished several hours of boring therapy on the girl, and it looked like she was going to get that and then some.
Except that when Ruth had looked at her, there had seemed to be promises of even worse things in Jaime's future.
It hadn't started as a conscious decision. In fact, at first glance, she'd had a reasonably normal day. For current values of normal, anyway. There had been an impromptu lesson in espionage techniques from Antonio, then an extended sparing session with Jae, followed by a slightly disturbing chat with Nathan over lunch. It was only at the point where she had dived willingly into a one to one debriefing with Jonas about the previous day, just because she'd heard the psychiatrist's footsteps heading towards them down the corridor, that she realised the truth; she was hiding from Ruth.
It wasn't that they hadn't seen each other. On the contrary, it was hard not to, given the Berkut love of goldfish bowl offices, but so far, Jaime had managed to avoid any more contact than a hard look or two. And, now, she was, apparently, prepared to spend the afternoon being told about everything she'd done wrong during her assignment with Heaven and the meeting with Sarah to keep it that way.
Hopefully, she thought, given enough time, Ruth might be less angry with her.
There were more important things to do than chase their tame bionic woman around the complex. Berkut fought to maintain control of many irons, stuck in a wide variety of fires, after all. And, frankly, it didn't take a genius, or even a psychologist, to realise that Jaime was avoiding her. Ruth was not one for vain pursuits. After all, though it wasn't strictly the time for it, if necessary, there was always her next therapy session in which to raise the issues from the previous day that simmered irritably in the back of her mind. Especially, since they seemed to be failing so completely to achieve the real goals of those sessions.
No, she thought, not they. It was she who was failing in their sessions, even if it was the girl who was constantly fighting the process.
She'd also had more important things to do, yesterday, too, she thought, angrily. Resentment spilled forth and she knew she would have to let it run its course, if she were ever going to achieve anything with the day.
Her whole life was filled with more important things that didn't involve spending time with a spoilt little rich kid who manifested such obvious spoilt little rich kid issues.
It didn't matter, at the moment with the venom flowing through her psyche, that she understood why Jaime had dumped the girl. No, she knew that the meeting with Corvus was already sufficiently ill-advised, despite her offer of tacit support for arranging it. That had been merely a necessary evil. An attempt to draw the girl into her confidence.
Letting Jaime taking the young Canadian along would have changed the threat to her from being theoretical to almost certainty, something that Jonas would never have sanctioned. Worse still, it would have split Jaime's focus.
In this game, Ruth knew, split focus got everyone hurt.
As it was, the brat had turned out to be a royal pain in the butt. It took about five minutes to realise quite why Jaime had had such a look of relief when she'd handed the girl over. However, she was nothing that Ruth couldn't cut down to size. Using strictly professional methods, too.
Ruth smiled slightly to herself at the memory.
It had barely been a challenge, and the kid's look of utter relief when Jaime returned had been almost as amusing as the abject apology and hasty departure which followed.
Still, she thought, the thread of anger returning, she didn't appreciate being treated as a place to leave inconvenient items for later retrieval. Her office was not a coat check and Jaime needed to know that.
Their new bionic woman was every bit as frustrating as the previous one, it seemed, and in a whole range of new and unexpected ways.
Her need to vent fizzled out, and she turned back to the stack of paperwork on her desk. This strange, near obsession with Jonas's new toy soldier was not going to help make that any smaller.
The meeting with Jonas had dragged on. In the windowless, clockless bunker it was hard to tell day from night, but she was fairly sure she'd seen nearly everyone else leave, even Ruth, before Jonas had finally finished chewing her over. All she really wanted to do was head home, and curl up on the couch with her sister, where she could eat junk food and watch comic book TV. The previous evening's Chinese had gone to waste since Becca had slept through until morning on Sarah's sedative, and Jaime's own appetite had fled the building as completely as her opposite number. She had, instead, given the discarded, untouched bags of food to the Berkut SWAT team leader; a peace offering for the wasted trip.
For the second night running, therefore, she strode purposefully towards her apartment, carrying pleasantly warm bags, heavy with aromatic food. It was moments like these, she mused, that she was really very glad that Will hadn't screwed with her taste and smell, as he had so obviously with her sight and hearing. She was still reserving judgement on the touch thing.
Wrapped up in this, and other thoughts, the dark '72 GTO parked across from her building didn't register with her conscious mind. So, it was with an overwhelming sense of deja vu that she discovered her sister conversing easily with a blonde she'd never expected to find in her home.
It was relatively early, for her at least, when she hit the road block in her research. The contact who could locate and divulge the data she required would be long gone from their underfunded government desk, and that, she decided, made it good time to call it a day. The halls of the complex were quiet and the offices dark. It seemed that besides Jonas, still deep in conversation with a bored looking Jaime, and the night shift surveillance crew, Berkut had shut up shop for the night. The parking garage reflected the emptiness of the offices above; her car sat in a sea of empty spaces and the bass rumble of the big engine echoed back at her from the smooth concrete walls. The sound soothed her. They were old friends.
The scurrying surge of commuters had passed several hours ago, leaving the streets as close to quiet as they ever managed. She took the opportunity to throw the big car around a more than usually circuitous route towards home. The open road beyond the city's boundaries beckoned, but she pushed the idea away with thoughts of food, and maybe a long, hot bath, to soothe away the tensions that tightened her neck and shoulder muscles.
And yet, somehow, rather than arriving at her own home, she found herself parked in the dark between street lights, on the quiet cross street that housed Jaime's apartment building.
From this angle, all there was to see was the warm glow of occupation, evinced by the light filtering through blinds of the many, huge windows that lined the walls. She thought back to the night that Sarah killed Anthros, shooting him through that expensive, foolish wall of glass, and wondered how Jaime could bear to live with the nightmarish security implications of so much visibility.
The thought of the other bionic woman, made the hairs on the back of her neck lift. Sarah had been to this place only last night, and Ruth could practically feel her presence in the night around her, waiting and watching. Sarah had always liked to watch.
Just like you, came a traitorous whisper in her mind, for all your denials.
She made it half-way to Jaime's apartment before she really realised she'd moved from the anonymous comfort of the car. By the time her normally sharp instincts awoke properly and started screaming at her what a terrible idea this was, she'd already introduced herself - as a colleague from work, just one of the girls - to the younger girl who shared such a strong resemblance with her sister, and accepted the offer of a drink 'while she waited'.
Time passed. She shared a pleasant, though hardly stimulating, conversation with the teenager. Lies about her role in Jaime's life flowed easily from her lips, while her brain worked feverishly for an acceptable excuse. Something, anything that would allow her to leave with a certain amount of grace.
It was, however, the look of pure terror that passed undisguised over Jaime's face, in the microsecond while she processed that Ruth, and not Sarah, sat in her kitchen, that convinced her to stay. The girl so clearly needed a friend who understood. Someone she could talk to about all the things she was hiding. It was what the therapy sessions were supposed to offer, but Ruth knew the wrong tack when she saw it.
No one sane would describe her as the warm and cuddly type. She knew she liked the structure that therapy imposed. She was self aware enough to recognise her own need to control the situations she could. But she would never have made the effective field agent she'd been, still was, if she hadn't been able to adapt to situations as they changed. Perhaps, this way, outside of the strictures and formality, she could finally find a way to reach the intriguing and illusive Jaime Sommers. Here, at last, was a chance to blast through the mountains of paper knowledge she'd absorbed about the girl and finally begin to understand the person.
And maybe, if she managed that, it would stop the gnawing itch in the back of her head that was throwing her so far off her usual sense of self.
The room almost felt almost physically colder to the two older women with their exchange of greetings, but Becca breezed on, oblivious to the tensions that had manifested.
"Ruth said she was in the neighbourhood..."
"This is unexpected..."
"Your sister was just showing me..."
Their three voices chimed together, then trailed off, into an embarrassed silence.
"Well," Jaime said at last, a forced brightness colouring her tone, "it's a good job I always over-order."
The third time Becca's head dropped heavily onto Jaime's shoulder, she woke the sleepy teen, gently, and sent her unusually unresisting, to bed.
The couch felt rather empty after that. Jaime curled herself up a little more tightly in the corner furthest from Ruth, using the low table strewn with mostly empty food containers as a small, but strangely comforting, barrier between them.
"Sedatives will do that," offered Ruth, softly, "It's just not the same quality as natural sleep."
Jaime looked up from where she'd been contemplating her beer bottle. Ruth looked so at home in her mismatched, slightly overstuffed armchair, that she was momentarily at a loss for how to deal with this interloper into her private space. She'd been polite until now. For Becca's sake, she'd told herself, maintaining the front of whatever necessary lies Ruth had told about herself. But somewhere she knew there was also her own need for the simple, the normal. What was more normal that a quiet dinner with her sister and what? A colleague? A friend?
No, she told herself, friends were too close, and Ruth had made it clear she didn't do close.
So what was the other woman doing here.
"Another beer?" she offered, waving her own empty bottle. She started to move towards the fridge before the affirmative answer came, allowing herself a few moments away the intense gaze of the other woman. She didn't think that Ruth had actually been studying her as hard as it had felt like. That was, most likely, perfectly normal paranoia at work. Or, perhaps, that in itself was just wishful thinking.
She paused at the fridge, her head full of thoughts tumbling past each other. A quick mental tally reminded her that this would only be her third bottle of the lite beer, but she wondered if perhaps, even that, was too much in the other woman's presence. After a moment of indecision, she pulled a bottle of beer and an iced tea from the chiller.
"If you've got another one of those iced teas, I'd take that instead of more beer."
Jaime jumped, nearly dropping both bottles. Ruth's low voice so close behind her had been entirely unexpected.
What was it that Sarah had said? Their brains filtered out images from their bionic eyes that they didn't want to see. It seemed that that applied to their enhanced hearing, too.
She placed the bottles carefully on the counter. On turning, she found Ruth at the edge of the kitchen area. Carefully just out of arm's reach, her inbuilt training supplied. The blonde's arms were filled with the cardboard carton remains of their dinner, just as carefully and methodically stacked as Jaime might have expected, if she'd spared it a thought. A glance over the other woman's shoulder showed the living area to be completely cleared, bar three beer bottles and Becca's glass.
"Wow. Which one of us is bionic again?" she joked, lamely. "It usually takes me at least three trips to get all that."
"All it takes is a little organisation."
"I guess so. Not one of my strongest areas."
"Oh, I don't know. You seem to have done pretty well."
Jaime coloured at the unexpected compliment, and turned hastily back to the fridge to swap out beer for iced tea, as a cover for her flustered surprise.
"I don't hate you, Jaime, you know."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I want you to trust me. I'd like you to feel comfortable to open..."
"Oh, spare me. Save it for the next therapy session."
"I'd like to be your friend, Jaime."
"Why?" The question was bald, bordering on rude, but there was nothing more Jaime could add to it. It was all she wanted to know.
"Therapy only goes so far. We've already lost one bionic woman, and she actually wanted to be where you are. We can't afford..."
"So, actually, all you're doing is protecting Jonas's investment?"
"No. It's not that." Ruth paused, before correcting herself. "It's more than just that."
"Tell me, then!" Jaime's voice rose sharply, her anger finally bubbling out. She stepped forward, unconsciously invading the other woman's personal space, forcing her back against the breakfast bar. "Stop hiding behind the psychiatrist's mask, Ruth, and just tell me what you're doing here."
Ruth side-stepped gracefully out from between Jaime and the counter. She knew she could blame her elevated heart rate on fear, part of her body's preparations for fight or flight. She'd seen what an out of control bionic could do and it wasn't pretty. Only the stupid were fearless. Fear kept you alive. What she couldn't understand was why she wasn't actually afraid.
Dumping the cartons to free her hands, she asked herself if she could answer Jaime's question. Did she even know herself, why she was here?
"No. What is it with you? Have you suddenly forgotten how to say 'I'?"
"I don't know why I'm here." The words tumbled out in response to the unrestrained sarcasm. This time it was Ruth who closed the gap between them, stung anger cracking her usually flawless mask. "Maybe because Sarah Corvus was the perfect candidate, hand picked and willing, and she still lost it, and I don't want to see that happen to you."
Ruth turned away from Jaime, whose surprise shone clearly from her youthful, unlined face. Everything she had done this evening had been wrong. She should leave now, as she'd intended to do hours ago. Hell, she should never have come in the first place. Perhaps with a strategic retreat, she could pick up the tatters of her dignity and hope that she could piece herself back together before the morning.
Jaime stared. Everything about the older woman's posture radiated defeat and she swallowed the words that bubbled up her throat. Throwing back statements about the game and not getting close at Ruth right now would just be cruel, and Jaime really wasn't cruel. In the strained silence, she watched as the blonde physically attempted to re-gather her state of mind.
"I should go. I'm sorry." Ruth's voice was low, deeper even than usual, with a gravelly edge of raw emotion not yet quite subsumed into the professional mask. She didn't turn back to face Jaime.
"No!" cried Jaime, stepping forward and placing her left hand gently on Ruth's shoulder. "No," she said again, more quietly, but with equal intensity. She turned the unresisting woman to meet her gaze, needing none of her unnatural strength to accomplish the task.
"No," she said for the third time. "It's not you who should be sorry. I was acting like a jerk. Please, forgive me?"
She found herself with Ruth's hand clasped delicately between her own two; one real, one bionic. Despite Will's reassurances, she was beginning to recognise the differing sensations they provided. From one, she could feel Ruth's skin, warm and soft beneath her fingertips, and the circling pad of her thumb, that attempted to offer reassurance, as if Ruth were a frightened animal to be soothed with gentle touches. The other registered the slight dampness of the palm and the racing pulse beneath the surface.
Looking into her face, she didn't need bionics to register the way her lips sparkled under the kitchen spotlights, damp from the passage of her tongue, or her dilated pupils in widened eyes. Ruth looked back at Jaime, caught precariously between terror and arousal.
Strangely calm, Jaime leaned forward, and kissed Ruth.
Jaime stood alone in the kitchen, now. Hair mussed and lips swollen. Dazed.
The report of a car door shutting, loud in the silence of the night, broke the spell. Jaime leaned against the counter and listened to the roar of a large engine coming to life, and the fading rumble as the vehicle it belonged to moved away. Only then did she move, somewhat mechanically, to finish the cleaning up that had been so surprisingly interrupted. Her bionics offered, unwanted, an answer to an unspoken question. Flashes of recently recorded images ready to be reviewed should she so desire, but she pushed them away, and offered a silent prayer of thanks to the illusive Sarah for the knowledge that kept this data from the prying eyes of Berkut.
Her sub-conscious, animal brain needed no augmentation to relive the feeling of the soft, yielding lips of a woman allowing herself to be kissed, or the sight of eyes filled with desire fluttering shut under the weight of passion, or the feeling of the moment when control of the kiss switched. It was then that lips had parted and tongues had twined, exploring new spaces, new sensations, new flavours. Hands had tangled in silky hair, and moved onwards to find the dichotomy of hard, trained muscles and soft, welcoming curves. Bodies had crushed together, trying to delete the separateness of their forms.
And then... there was parting. Disentanglement, separation. Followed by a hurried goodbye, so swift that, to Jaime's overwhelmed senses, Ruth had seemed to almost vanish.
Jaime shook her head trying to move some of the torpor from her system. It wasn't the first time she'd kissed or been kissed, after all. Not even her first woman. College wasn't the only place girls experimented, and some of her father's activist cronies had been rather bohemian in outlook.
Finding that the kitchen was now spotless, Jaime went through the usual evening motions, preparing herself for bed. But once she lay among the cool sheets, it became abundantly clear that tonight sleep would be illusive.
She's driving. It's a place to think. Once you get outside the city, there's more than enough space to do that, without needing to worry too hard about what's around the next bend. The headlights illuminate the road ahead almost forever it seems, through the dark of the night, and the next bend isn't for at least fifteen miles, maybe more.
This isn't her first time. She's been playing this game, for game it surely is, a damned sight longer than that. Almost longer than this girl has been alive.
Goddamnit, even her car is older than Jaime.
But as she drives, she can still feel the girl's lips against her own. Gentle, questioning. Uncertain, but not hesitant. Jaime's unspoken question was more than answered by her own flare of lust. The explosion of feeling from the core of her being, that rushed outwards, blasting through caution and all of her carefully built and reinforced emotional walls.
Suddenly, she had discovered how Jaime tasted, how her pulse throbbed under the soft skin of her throat, how her upgraded body still yielded and trembled with passion.
It had been too much. Sensory overload on a massive scale. A similar feeling, she suspected, to that which Jaime and Sarah had experienced as their bionics came online. Like them, her animal reactions had kicked in. Call it training, self-defence, fight or flight, the words made no difference to the action. She had fled, panicked; hurtled into the night like a startled deer. She had sort solace in her only constant, these deserted open roads and the control of her beloved vehicle.
Now, she slowed, searching the verge for a place firm enough to support the big car's weight. In seconds, she'd abandoned that thought, pulled to an abrupt, untidy halt, and stumbled forth, drinking in huge gulps of the cold, clean air, forcing away the sudden nausea that threatened to overwhelm her.
Fear. Raw terror of a completely different kind to that which comes when facing down an unstable, gun wielding fanatic, or narrowly averting a massive terrorist attack. Fear had kept her alive, but it had also kept her apart. Alone in the darkness, never quite making those connections that kept a person truly sane. Connections that kept an agent like her human in the face of all the evidence that humanity was deeply flawed.
She found herself slumped bonelessly at the side of her car, shivering from more than just the chill. Looking up, she watched the last straggles of tattered cloud brushed away from the sky, revealing the full glory of the new moon and her million, million attendant stars. There was a different kind of peace to be found drawing in the imaginary lines of constellations, disturbed only by the faint susurrus of the breeze, and with that peace came a decision.
The wilderness seemed unconcerned as, once more, the engine roared its presense to the world. Tugging the vehicle round in a lazy circle, until she points towards the city. Her headlong flight contained, Ruth moves forward, calmly determined.
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