2007-12-30: Twelve Hugs A Day

Starring:

Jack_icon.gif Desiree_icon.gif

Summary: Gifts are given, cake is consumed, and a reckless, tired man finds comfort.

Date It Happened: December 30th, 2007

Twelve Hugs A Day


Dezi and Ramon's place - Upstate NY.

The upstate country home that Desiree shares with Ramon and the kids is idyllic in every sense. Full of warmth, light, and cozy if slightly schizophrenic decor, there's a lingering, palpable sense in the air of kids and laughter having just been there. You'd never know, by looking in this morning, that the man of the house is exploding with tension over the possibility that his daughter might die, that his tiniest daughter has a powerful secret ability, or that his oldest son can kill things which his touch; or that one teenager could be sneaking around the house right now and nobody would know it.

Instead, the early afternoon is filled with the scent of gingerbread and finds Dezi mostly alone in a black, flour-covered apron that says DESPERATE HOUSEWIFE (she probably doesn't know what that means), on her hands and knees under the kitchen table holding a wooden spoon, pleading to what appears to be an upturned cardboard box. …Okay, mostly idyllic.

Today Jack has given up the suits he's grown too thin for in favor of a heavy, navy blue sweater with a high turtleneck, a wool peacoat, beat-up carpenter jeans, and a battered pair of leather engineer's boots. Though he's still very haggard and pale, he looks much healthier than he did when he was in his self-imposed lockdown. The combined effect creates a very working-class ambience, though he's anything but.

There's a small package in his arms that's been wrapped by his own hand. The pale green paper and yellow ribbons are very pretty, but the effect is spoiled somewhat by the fact that he clearly has no idea how to gift-wrap. It's messy in a very "Mommy, look what I brought you" fashion. The Irishman nibbles on his lower lip nervously and glances down at it, then squares his shoulders, steps up to the door, and knocks briskly.

The knock on the door prompts the cardboard box to rock 'n' roll, skittering away, powered by something small on four legs. Desiree follows suit, ambling along on her own all-fours only to smack her head a folded down leaf of the table. "OW." She points her wooden spoon at the cardboard box getting away. "I'ma get you when you least expect it," she tells it matter-of-factly before calling out cheerfully: "Coming!" Extracting herself from the floor with some effort, all long limbs and too many table and chair legs, Desiree saunters to the front door. Under her long apron is a black, white and yellow dress decorated with seahorses. Elegant. Weird, but elegant. Her dark curls are tied in a messy tangle at the nape of her neck. She peeks out between the window's curtains and doesn't look surprised, only delighted, when she spots Jack. The door is opened wide. "Well hi, stranger! Ain't you lookin' more chipper'n last time I saw you."

"Uh. Hey," Jack greets, a little surprised by the sudden and warm welcome. He ducks his head and shifts his package to his other arm. "I. Uh. Ahem. Hi." His concern at being seen once in a vulnerable position is fast pushing toward a similar situation. He clears his throat and scrambles for verbal equilibrium, then starts again more slowly. "Good to see you again. Mind if I come in?" He scuffs his boots against the stoop and puffs out a cold cloud of breath. Though he's concealing it a bit better, his boyishness and self-consciousness is increasing, not diminishing.

The more Jack's self-conscious level increases, the warmer Desiree's smile shines. "C'mon right in," she says, going so far as to lay a hand on the man's shoulder and usher him inside the spacious house. She leads the way with her wooden spoon held like a torch without quite realizing it. Somewhere in the house, something squawks off-key. "That's just Pauly Shore," she says off-handedly. "How you been doin'? You like gingerbread cake?"

The wild array of sights and sounds is slightly overwhelming, but not in a bad way. It's a friendly, homey ambiance unlike any Jack has experienced before. A fraction at a time, his jaw drops until he's fairly gaping at spoon-wielding Dezi. "I love ginger cake. Uh. And I'm good, thanks. A lot better than last time. Um." He cradles the wrapped box against his chest with one arm and reaches up to rub at the back of his neck nervously. "I wanted to thank you. I really thought you were an angel, y'know? So. Yeah. I got you something." He sucks in a deep breath, huffs it out, and abruptly presents to box to Dezi.

"Aw," Desiree says, touched, with a cluck of her tongue as she takes the present under one arm. "That's real sweet of you. I was jus' doin' what came natural, you know? I was s'posed to be there, so there I was." She leads Jack into the kitchen, where there's a pan of warm cake cooling on a rack on the counter. She drops the wooden spoon into a big, red, empty bowl nearby, sets the gift down beside it and pries apart the clumsy corners with her many-ringed fingers. "Glad to see you outta your cage," she comments sincerely to the man who ought to be a near-stranger as she unveils the gift. "Bless this Angel of Mercy, as she smiles to those in need," she reads the script on the adorable angelic collectible she finds. "On that day and the next, from your worries you'll be freed."

"It might've been natural for you, but…" Jack licks his lips and tucks his hands behind his back in a loose imitation of the military at-ease posture. He takes a deep, steadying breath and continues. "I was in a dark place. Real bad. I don't like to think of what I might've done if you hadn't come by when you did. To me, you'll always be Angel." His self-consciousness culminates during his last sentence and finally begins to dissipate. Now relaxed, his shoulders slump a bit and a slow, tentative smile creeps across his face. He reaches out to her, lays a hand on her shoulder, and gives a grateful, affectionate squeeze. Then he winks, hops up on the counter nimbly, and leans down to whiff at the cake. "Smells delicious."

Humble as ever, Desiree just smiles that warm smile of hers. A twinkle comes to her eye and she holds the angel figurine close to her breast. "I know it." Chances are, she's not talking about the cake. She seems almost reluctant to put down her gift, sincerely attached to it now that it's in her hands, but she does, gingerly setting it on the counter and giving the cute smiling face of the angel a little pat. She opens a drawer nearby without looking — a testament to how much at home she is here, in this new house — and withdraws a knife to cut the cake with. "For all I know've your future, I dunno much 'bout the man you used to be, Jack Derex."

"Nobody does, really," Jack replies quietly. Like a little boy waiting impatiently for his dessert, he kicks and swings his dangling feet, though he's careful to avoid scuffing them against cabinets and other surfaces. "I've done a lot of bad things," he admits. "Like… A lot. I'm not that guy anymore, though. I've got friends now. A family." He pauses to glance away, wince, and ponder his recent escapades. Kidnapping Mohinder Suresh. Stabbing a drug dealer in the neck with his own product. Teaching Peter Petrelli to dispose of a body. He clears his throat and continues. "Okay, so I'm a work in progress. We all have our skillset."

"S'long as you wanna be better, s'what matters. Ain't everyone a work in progress? I dunno if we're ever done." Desiree slices the cake, wanders about the kitchen to retrieve a plate — old, and well-worn, instead of new to match the new home — and carefully sets out a square of gingerbread cake for Jack, with a fork. She hands it to him, head cocked as she lifts two bold brows, still smiling her optimistic and empathetic smile. "We're all made of puzzle pieces, Jack."

Though Jack is well versed in the manners and mannerisms of high society, he throws that knowledge to the wind in favor of shoveling forkloads of ginger cake into his mouth. "Mmmmmm," he states emphatically around a mouthful. "This is 'mazing. S'good." He swallows a little prematurely, but pauses with the second bite halfway to his mouth. "You're so nice," he says, his voice very low. "I wish I'd had a mom like you. Hugs and cakes and kind words go a long way." The unique, boyish vulnerability that he's only shown around her is creeping back to the fore. "Am I too old for you to be my mom? Even I need a hug sometimes."

"Well," Desiree hops up onto the counter on the other side of the cake pan. "I dunno how Ramon'd feel 'bout adopting a grown man as another stepson, but I'll see what I can do." Try as she might to say it seriously, a silly smile curves her lips — unpainted, today. "Ain't enough hugs in this world. You know a person's s'posed to get four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth?" Desiree, fount of knowledge. "Mmhmm, it's true. We're undernourished!"

The thought of having Ramon as a daddy obviously hadn't occurred to Jack. He laughs with his mouth full of cake, clapping a hand across his lips to keep from spraying crumbs. "Oi, he'd probably have conniptions," the Irishman agrees, gulping down his morsel. "As for hugs, nobody gives 'em like a mother does. Doesn't have to be anybody's mom in particular, just a mom."

Desiree plucks a few bits of cake from the pan and pops them into her mouth — no surprise, then, that she's unaffected by Jack's lack of polite eating manners. "Ramon has a lotta conniptions," she points out.

"NOT SARGE! NOT SARGE!" a cracking voice belonging to a parrot calls out from another room.

The bird goes ignored as Desiree goes on to say, "Well, I'm certainly that. Any time you want a hug you can come knockin'."

Jack forks the last bite of cake into his mouth and chews it slowly, savoring it. When it's gone he licks the last of the crumbs from the tines, grinning at the antics of the unseen bird all the while. Suddenly, his grin cuts off and he sets the fork aside. He drops his voice to an overly serious and secretive whisper. "Angel… If you tell anybody that I'm actually a nice guy, I'll have to deny it. S'gotta be our little secret. This superbad image takes a lot of maintenance." He nods solemnly, but he's not able to keep up his straight face. He cracks a smile and winks roguishly at Dezi.

"Your secret's safe with me. Someone comes in you want me to pretend I'm bein' robbed?" Dezi replies with a good-naturedly wily little grin. "I ain't exactly unaccustomed to keepin' the squishy secret insides of tough men on the … down looow, as the kids say." She winks back, although this is not a woman who could be roguish if she tried. Although her smile doesn't fade away completely, she adopts a more serious moue, clutching the edge of the counter and regarding Jack questioningly. "How come you're so scared of lettin' folks know you ain't a bad guy?"

It's a question that Jack wasn't expecting. One he's not even sure he knows the answer to. He folds his arms across his belly and hugs himself protectively. "Dunno," he replies after a long moment. "Maybe it's 'cause I feel like there's so much craziness in the city right now, somebody's got to do whatever it takes to protect the people we love. If people know I'm willing to do that when they talk to me, chances are less I'll actually have to." He's holding something back, though. His eyes are averted, his chin tucked against his chest, and his fingers toying with sleeve; all are telltale signs.

"I'm not sure I follow your logic." Desiree slides off the counter — it's not a far drop, by any means, tall as she is. She lands with a light thump nonetheless on blue fluffy slippered feet. Sympathetic, inquisitive little expressions tugging down her bold features, she steps in front of Jack, head tilted up just a touch to look up at him. It's hard to hide from those understanding eyes of hers, but her gaze is not one that pins, or traps, or intimidates. Like a mother, more than a psychic, she just knows. "Maybe it's jus' me, but…" Dezi reaches out to take one of the Irishman's fidgeting hands. "People— they want heroes lookin' out for 'em, not villains."

Try as he might, Jack can't hide from Dezi's eyes. When he finally looks up, he finds that what he was expecting to be severe and unpleasant is actually calm and compassionate. "If they want a hero, they can talk to Nakamura, or Peter Petrelli. They're good boys, don't get me wrong. The hero thing clouds your judgment, though. I don't want to be thinking more about people's feelings than getting a job done, that isn't me."

"What're these jobs you gotta do that're so important you gotta be rough to get 'em done?" Desiree asks, honestly wanting to know; there's a glimmer of innocence, or something close to it, in her eyes. She's not some doe-eyed hero-follower by any means, but she's an optimist.

"It's not that I have to be rough," Jack murmurs. He crooks his neck and rubs his stubbly cheek against the shoulder of his coat. "Just that I have to be willing to. Someone has to be willing to do anything that's necessary. And some people…" Now he straightens and an intense, firey flash lights up his eyes. "Some people deserve whatever they get."

"You sound like Ramon," Desiree says quietly on the heels of Jack's fiery response. It's a subject not often broached, the uncomfortably morally grey. "There's always some way" she trails off, moving to lean against the corner between one counter's surface and another. She presses her lips together, on the verge of words that are ultimately never said. She almost certainly rephrases before she says, "You just gotta make sure you're doin' things for the right reasons."

Jack bobs a brisk nod to Desiree and hops down from his counter perch. "If there's one thing I've learned in the last few months, it's that. Thanks again, Angel. For everything." He reaches out to brush a fingertip against the face of the angel figurine he brought for her and a small smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. "I should get going. Tell Sarge I said hello, and give my love to the kids, okay?"

"Even the ones that don't know ya? This house's burstin' at the seams with kids," Desiree says, quirking her mouth into a more light-hearted grin. "I will." She doesn't let Jack leave without one very important thing, of course: the hug. She wraps up the reforming fellow into a tight squeeze. Like the baked goods she's been cooking, she smells of ginger and cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. "Thanks for the gift. You take care, mister."

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