Avengers-Sousa Thompson

Agent Carter fic: Sweater Weather

Carrying on with the reposting of SSR Confidential fics ... this was actually one of my favorites of the various ones that I wrote. But, then, I am ridiculously fond of this pairing for no particular reason.

Title: Sweater Weather
Fandom: Agent Carter
Pairing: Thompson/Sousa
Rating: PG13-ish
Word Count: 4500
Summary: There are rules to this thing between them. Jack never stays the night, and the relationship never brushes against their workday lives. Until Jack breaks a rule Daniel didn't even know was a rule; what he doesn't know is why.
Crossposted: http://archiveofourown.org/collections/SSR_Confidential_2016/works/6962464
Notes: Set during the season one-season two gap, in a hypothetical AU in which Peggy, not Daniel, took the L.A. job.



There's snow falling outside the window of Daniel's apartment when he wakes up, dry flakes piling up on the sill. The heat is out again, he's shivering under a pile of blankets, and Jack is gone, as usual.

Jack never stays the night. That's normal.

More interesting by far: Daniel's favorite sweater seems to have disappeared.

He looks all over before he's willing to admit that it's not here. There isn't a lot of space in which to lose things. He rents a single room with a shoebox-sized closet, and he doesn't have much stuff to begin with. He has exactly one decent sweater at the moment, a massive beige monstrosity knitted by his Aunt Estella during his convalescence after the war. It's not beautiful, but it's warm, and he spends so much of his time freezing that he sometimes thinks the Bastogne cold has seeped into his bones and he'll never get warm.

And now it seems to have vanished, along with Jack.

It makes sense when he thinks back to last night. Jack wasn't wearing a heavy coat. The weather was cool in the evening, but not cold. He can imagine Jack waking to the falling snow -- smiles a little at his mind's-eye view of Jack's irritated expression. He can see Jack fumbling around in the dark apartment, finding the sweater slung over the chair beside the bed (its usual resting place, where Daniel can easily grab it without having to get up when he's reading in bed), and taking it along to stay warm on his trip back uptown.

Not unreasonable.

But it's odd, in a way that nags at him, stays with him as he shivers through his preparations for work. It's a change in routine, a break in the unspoken boundaries they've built around this ... whatever it is ... this thing they have, keeping it strictly apart from work, apart from the rest of their lives. And he's not sure how to feel about it.


***


Daniel's hoping that Jack will unobtrusively stuff the sweater into his locker where he can retrieve it without making a fuss, or leave it hung over the back of his chair at work. No such luck. Bastard doesn't even mention it. Doesn't do anything different.

And it's not like he can just say, "So, Thompson, did you take my sweater last night?"

Even if he could get Jack somewhere private -- and that's hard enough; there's always someone looking for a piece of Chief Thompson's time, always someone listening for a piece of gossip to add to the SSR grapevine -- he can't just ask. That would mean admitting that he noticed, that he thought about it, that he's been wondering.

By the second day, though, he just wants his fucking sweater back.

By the third day, he's starting to wonder if he might have misread things completely. Maybe he brought it to work with him and forgot. Maybe he accidentally stuck it in his laundry the last time he took it down the street to Ping's Cleaners, and they never returned it.

Four days. The city is still freezing, the heat still goes in and out at his apartment, and now it's a Friday night, with the radio calling for more snow. It's times like this that Daniel's leg cramps in the cold, and he catches himself thinking: I coulda been in L.A. right now.

For the most part, he doesn't regret turning down the L.A. job. Peggy deserved that promotion; she earned it, more than either Jack or Daniel did. Daniel was the first to congratulate her. And the distance is probably good -- for her, for both of them. He keeps thinking he should call her up just to talk. Maybe one of these days he will.

But tonight, they've all come off a rough case. Nobody died, but two agents are in the hospital and the mood at the SSR's favorite neighborhood watering hole is quiet and tense. Everyone's been a little on edge since things went down with Stark all those months ago. Since they lost Krzeminski, and Li, and Yauch, and Parker ...

And Jack takes it hard when things happen to his agents. Daniel has come to notice this, during the months they've been working more closely together. So he's not surprised Jack is drinking hard tonight.

It always seemed that things were easier when Peggy was here -- that she mediated between them somehow.

As the night wears on, the other agents say their goodnights and trickle out, one by one, until somehow it ends up just the two of them. Daniel's been nursing his drinks slowly all evening, so he's not precisely drunk, but he's had enough to put a soft glow on the world and make him want to take Jack's face in his hands and kiss the bitter twist off his mouth. Of course, Jack would probably pop him one if he tried. And since they're in a public bar -- and not one of the fairy bars across the river or up in Harlem -- he'd have it coming.

Anyway, he's been thinking a lot, ever since the sweater went missing. He's thinking about how they never go back to Jack's place, only to Daniel's lousy little hole-in-the-wall apartment. Thinking about how Peggy left, and how the first night with Jack happened two days later, on the heels of a fight that Daniel is now willing to admit was at least half fueled by his own anger and misery. There was alcohol and yelling, and Daniel thinks, in a way, he was trying to punish himself ... to punish both of them.

But it didn't feel like a mistake. It should have, and yet it didn't. For him, anyway. He's not sure how Jack sees it. For all he knows, maybe it's still a sort of self-punishment on Jack's part -- using Daniel to exorcise buried demons, buried desires.

The thing that surprised him the most, at first, was Jack's gentleness in bed. He would have expected sex with Jack to be combative and angry, especially given how their first time had started out. But it's not; and whatever Jack's reasons for wanting to be in his bed, it's that tenderness, he thinks (well, okay, that and a whole lot of loneliness) that keeps him coming back. It's the way Jack kisses him like he's something precious, the way the layers of defensive anger are shed when the door closes, and it's like they're two different people, two people they can only be in private.

Maybe that's why Jack never spends the night: because he can only handle that kind of intimacy in small doses. Or, Daniel thinks, maybe it's not intimacy, but another charade. It's always hard to tell with Jack. Maybe the problem isn't that sex lays him bare; it's that he can only lie for so long before he has to retreat and regroup.

"Are you getting this round or am I?" Jack mumbles.

"I think maybe we've both had enough."

There's no one to notice, now, if they leave together. And, instead of taking care to leave the bar at different times in the evening (to meet later, or not), they walk out together into the bitter chill of a New York winter night. The snow is mostly gone now, melting into gray slush during the day, but the puddles have refrozen into patches of ice that make the footing treacherous. Daniel takes care where he puts his crutch down.

It's a long walk from here to Daniel's place, but he doesn't mind. It'll clear his head. For Jack, it would be a train ride to his apartment -- the apartment Daniel has never seen. It's somewhere uptown; that's all Daniel knows. But Jack walks with him instead of heading for the stop.

They walk together, not talking. It's quiet and companionable. They've had this more often lately, a sort of casual comfort in each other's presence. Daniel's not sure if the sex even has anything to do with it. Maybe they're just getting used to each other.

They start to kiss as soon as the door closes behind them, shedding clothing between the door and the bed. Daniel drops his crutch and leans on Jack instead. Tonight it's fast and it's hard and Jack ends up shivering afterwards, leaning into Daniel like he wants to cry but doesn't know how.

As the aftershocks die away, Jack relaxes slowly, with an arm wound around Daniel's shoulders and his face tucked into Daniel's neck. Another of the many things Daniel never quite realized, or ever could have anticipated, is that Jack seems to enjoy skin contact. It might be nothing more than an accident of a too-small bed, but he'll curl into Daniel after sex, an arm thrown over him, heavy and warm and soft against Daniel's side.

And yet somehow he can usually untangle himself without leaving a trace.

Daniel wakes sometime before dawn in a cold bed, damp and sticky and all too aware that he stupidly fell asleep without taking off the prosthesis, so now his leg's cramping. He sits up, pulls off the straps, and goes through the nightly routine of cleaning his stump and the leather cradle that he was too drunk and too eager to bother with a few hours ago. Afterwards, he stretches out in his too-cold bed and inhales the scent Jack left on the pillow, feeling stupid about it but unable to keep from reaching for that last little vestige of him. The dull glow of the city lights through the naked windows paints his room in blue and yellow shadows.

He misses the damn sweater. He misses Peggy, off living a brand new life in L.A.

And he misses Jack.

He used to want more with Peggy, too, and look how that worked out. Maybe he's just doomed to fall for people who need him less than he needs them.


***


But life goes on, and work goes on, and sometimes he and Jack toss back and forth friendly insults, and sometimes the insults turn serious and they don't speak for a day or two, except for terse, strictly mission-related communications.

And then his phone rings, and it's Peggy.

She needs details for a case Daniel worked last month, which has turned out to be connected to one of the West Coast bureau's cases. It's a little awkward at first, but after they manage to get past the first few embarrassed pauses, they just talk. They talk and talk, and Daniel's a little surprised to look up and realize he's been on the phone with her for almost an hour.

They talk about his cases and hers; they talk about L.A., about how Peggy's settling in and learning to surf. She sounds relaxed and happy, and delighted to hear his voice.

And oddly, that's what allows him to finally let go. Peggy was a chance not taken, a ship passed in the night, and he's glad with all his soul that she's happy and contented in her new life. On some level he will probably always love her, just like there's a part of him that still loves Mary O'Connell from sixth grade, or Ricky Lombardo from basic training. Daniel isn't a person who lets go easy; he's the kind who holds on. And he sincerely hopes he and Peggy will always be friends. But the wound has scabbed over; it doesn't hurt to press on it anymore.

Peggy promises to call again, and Daniel insists that if she wants to get a good reception around these parts, she needs to get him Ginger Rogers' autograph.

When he hangs up the phone, he feels lighter than he has in a very long time.

After some thought, he gets up, grabs the crutch, and goes into Jack's office. He doesn't bother knocking.

"Sousa," Jack says without looking up from the forms he's working on. "Are you done running up the SSR's long-distance bill?"

"As if you don't talk to her five times a week anyway." He closes the door and sits down in the chair in front of the desk.

Jack looks up slowly from his work, and raises his eyebrows.

"You got some kind of problem, Sousa?"

"Mostly I'm just wondering if you've seen a stray sweater around the office somewhere," Daniel says evenly. "I think I must've lost it."

And Jack -- Jack actually blushes. Daniel can't help staring, because he's never seen that before. Not in bed, or at any other time that he can recall.

"I'll let you know if it turns up," Jack says after a minute.

Normally he would have let it go at that. Today, though ... today ...

"Jack, seriously. It was in my room, and then it wasn't. I know it was you. Either that or I dropped it out the window by mistake."

Jack opens his mouth. Closes it. Something comes down across his face -- Daniel's had a lot of practice by now at watching Jack slip in and out from behind his masks, and though he still can't always tell when Jack is lying, he can usually tell when Jack has decided to put on his glossy "Thompson vs the world" face, and this is definitely that.

"I still don't know why you think I have it, but if you keep looking, you might find that it turns up in a day or two," Jack says, and there's a weird flatness to his tone that Daniel doesn't like at all. "You know how it is when you lose stuff. It's always in the last place you look."

And suddenly it's just too goddamn much. "What's with you, anyway?" Daniel wants to know. "Is this a new way of messing with the office cripple, or what?" The words are torn out of him, made up of equal parts anger and hurt. He thought they were past that, he really did. He let his defenses down -- trusted Jack not to pull that kind of school bully crap anymore.

And turned out to be a fool, apparently.

Except, an instant later as the first wave of hurt dies down enough that he can think, his analytical side takes over, because it doesn't make sense. This isn't how Jack's practical jokes normally go. And now Jack's looking at him with an expression that, for just an instant, reflects Daniel's own snarled emotions: that's hurt he catches, and anger, and then --

-- then it's the glossy smile that he doesn't trust at all. "Busted," Jack says with a cheeriness that Daniel pegs as fake. "You're too easy, Danny-boy. You should see your face right now. I haven't had this much fun since I sent you off to get a peek at Carter in the nude -- remember that?"

Yeah, he remembers that day in the locker room, with an inward twist of embarrassment. And he's pretty sure Jack is trying to distract him, stabbing at his weak spots, because that's a thing Jack does too. Deflect. Attack.

"You're that attached to that thing, huh? Aren't you a little old for security blankets?" Jack's tone is sharp now. Ugly. "Keep this up, you might get it back in pieces."

And Daniel could let it go at that -- Jack's a jerk, what else is new -- except ...

"That's not it at all, is it?" he says, and now he's not angry at all; he's just curious. "Jack, I don't care about the sweater. I mean, I don't care if I get it back." Which isn't entirely true, but he has the feeling that he's stumbled into a minefield here, and he's caught between wanting to back out of it as gracefully as possible, and needing to know why this apparently matters as much as it does. In the end, it's the curiosity that wins; he's an SSR agent through and through, it seems. "Tell you what. You tell me what you wanted it for, and I'll never bring it up again. You can keep it or throw it in the trash or whatever you want to do."

Jack stares at him, and for a moment Daniel feels like they're on the edge of something big. Like things are balanced on a fulcrum between them, and the right words could tip it one way, while the wrong ones could upset the balance forever.

Yet he can't find the words, just like he couldn't find the right words with Peggy all those months ago, and the moment stretches and snaps.

"Nice try, but no cigar." Jack picks up his pen and looks back down at his paperwork. He still radiates anger, hiding under a thin layer of charm, and Daniel doesn't even know why. "Unless there's anything else, Agent, you still owe me a report on the Baumgartner case, and I want it on my desk first thing in the morning."

"Yeah, I -- I'll get on it." He stands up, and then stands for a moment looking down at Jack, who seems suddenly small, as if his office with its never-ending piles of paperwork is a trap that's swallowing him whole. "Think I'm going straight home from work tonight," he says, on impulse. "I'm tired. Going to stay in."

"Good for you, Sousa." Jack doesn't look up.

Daniel goes back to his desk with that frustrating feeling that he's missed a chance to say or do something important. But, damn it, he just doesn't know what that thing is. What kind of future do the two of them have anyway? Jack, with that cocky smile and golden-boy good looks, will probably charm some pretty girl and marry her and have a half-dozen blond kids. Daniel will ... well ... it's harder for him to see his own future that way, especially after Peggy, but maybe there's some girl out there for him somewhere too.

Maybe in a decade they'll both look back at this as some kind of stupid juvenile indiscretion, a mutual exercise of loneliness, and nothing else.

He looks up from his typewriter, through the glass wall of Jack's office, and catches Jack in the act of looking away, looking down -- and a hook in his chest twists a little.

He doesn't need the stupid son of a bitch anyway.


***


Jack's in a meeting when Daniel clocks out that evening, so he doesn't have a chance to -- to do whatever he'd have done, if he'd had the opportunity.

Instead, he leaves the office, eats at his favorite diner, and goes home. The low sulfur-tinted skies are starting to spit an ugly mix of rain, sleet, and snow. Winter in New York, the season that never ends. He thinks about Peggy, with her clear blue California skies, and then he gets out the latest copy of Ellery Queen's detective magazine and flips it open to a tale of hard-boiled crime.

And then he puts the God damn magazine down, and gets up and grabs his crutch.

In his building there's just one telephone down in the lobby. He waits 'til the two guys ahead of him are done calling their girlfriends, drops in his dime and calls the office. He asks them for Chief Thompson's address, tells them it's for a case. A few minutes later, he's outside in the cold, sleeting night, catching a train uptown.

He walks slowly down the row of brownstones, while rain and sleet pepper his bare head, looking for Jack's address. It's a nice neighborhood. Tree-shaded streets, sidewalks in good repair. Nothing like the tenement where Daniel grew up, or the men's hotel where he lives now.

He finds the right address. There's a light in the window, glowing warmly through the curtains and the slushy rain. Daniel steps into the small foyer of the subdivided brownstone, finds the right door, and knocks. Waits. Knocks again.

A long wait, and then Jack pulls the door open. His tie is off, his shirt half unbuttoned, and his hair askew across his forehead. He's all wound up to deliver a good rant -- Daniel recognizes the signs -- but at the sight of Daniel standing there, damp from the rain, his mouth closes and he just stares.

"Can I come in? Kind of wet out there ..."

Jack steps back in silence, still giving him that dazed look. He smells like bourbon. Daniel steps inside cautiously, his courage beginning to desert him. He feels like an intruder. But he's come too far to turn back now.

It's a nice place, not tremendously swanky, but a far sight better than Daniel's single room. There's a short hall with a place to hang his dripping coat, a living room and bedroom, and a kitchen that's really more of a nook with a gas stove and icebox. None of the rooms are large, but Daniel's used to having just enough room for his bed, a single chair, and a bookcase.

A radio is playing softly; it sits on an end table beside the small couch. There's a lamp casting light across the half-empty whiskey bottle on the end table, a single glass beside it. Daniel can picture it easily: Jack sitting here alone, listening to the radio and drinking.

But then his attention is caught by ... his sweater, flung over the back of the couch.

And Jack sees where his gaze went.

"You need something, Danny-boy?" It's the same tone from earlier, in Jack's office. Defensive, angry, spoiling for a fight.

But Daniel knows that game. They've played it too many times. He's not taking the bait this time. "I could use a drink. It's freezing out there."

Jack stares at him. Daniel doesn't back down, and Jack shakes his head, huffs a soft laugh. Some of the fight goes out of him. He goes to the kitchen and gets another glass, pours it half full, while Daniel sits cautiously on the far end of the couch and leans his crutch against the arm.

"You want ice?"

"Neat is fine."

"Neat. Listen to you being fancy." Jack's fingers brush Daniel's when he hands over the drink. Then he flops on the other end of the couch and picks up his glass. He's back to his public persona: loose-limbed and charming and casually flirty. "Gotta tell you, Sousa, I didn't expect to see you on this end of town. All the way up here for this hideous thing?" He balls up the sweater and tosses it to Daniel, who catches it automatically. "Here. Tell Momma Sousa you got her sweater back. Unless your taste is just that terrible. I thought the sweater vests were bad, but this thing's worse."

"My aunt made it, actually." Daniel holds the sweater for a long moment. He's got the sweater back, intact, with a minimum of insults along the way. He's won this round, somehow. So why doesn't it feel like winning?

"For what it's worth," he says, and Jack looks up quickly, his gaze having fallen to his drink. "When I noticed it was missing, I figured you'd taken it to stay warm on your ride uptown, and I -- I was glad, you know? I didn't like the idea of you out there, cold in the snow. And I actually do like the idea of you wearing it. I just sort of want to know why you hung onto it this long, because it's an ugly monstrosity that only my aunt's knitting needles could have brought into the world. It really doesn't seem like your style at all."

This makes Jack laugh, a little. "You're right, Sousa. I could just barely bring myself to go outside in it, even with the damn thing hidden under my coat."

"Thanks a lot, Jack." But things feel a little easier now. Daniel is still aware there's some subtext he's missing, something written below the conversation that would make sense out of this. But somehow they're working their way back around to a better place.

He just wishes he knew what the hell happened.

"Jack," he says softly, testing the waters. "If you want to keep it, I don't mind."

"Why would I want that?" Jack returns, too fast.

"I don't know." But then he thinks about those mornings when he rolls over to inhale Jack's scent on an empty pillow, and suddenly he thinks he does know. Maybe.

He's not really sure how to ask. He and Jack don't talk about things; that's not how it works, with them. Instead, Daniel pulls the sweater on. It's oversized and ridiculous.

"You look like an idiot," Jack remarks, but the rim of his glass clinks against his teeth as he smiles.

"I know," Daniel says, and he grins back. Can't help it really, because he's not mad anymore -- never was that mad, more like frustrated -- and he's here in Jack's apartment, where he's never been. And Jack is looking at him in a soft kind of way, with his hair flopping loose on his forehead. Daniel has always liked him best when he's like this, not the slick Jack Thompson the rest of the world sees, but a little bit of a mess. Because that's the real Jack, and Daniel misses him when he's not around.

They've been staring at each other a little too long, both of them smiling.

"I came all the way uptown to see you and I don't even get a kiss?" Daniel says.

Jack slides over and kisses him, slow and deep, tasting like whiskey. Then he slides down to bury his face in Daniel's neck, and Daniel thinks about the way he does that when they're in bed together too -- leaning into him, just breathing him.

Yeah. That's what he wanted the sweater for, all right. But of course he couldn't just come out and say so.

The fucking idiot.

We're a real pair, all right.

Maybe they don't have a future, he thinks as he happily consents to be peeled out of the sweater that he just put on. But maybe, he thinks, as Jack kisses his neck and he slides his hands under Jack's shirt, over the smooth planes of Jack's stomach -- maybe all the world's hypothetical futures don't matter as much as the flawed happiness that they have here and now, in the present day.

The war should have taught them that, if nothing else.


***


Daniel wakes in a gray dawn, sticky-mouthed and a little hung over and pleasantly aching. Sleet rattles against the window. He's expecting the heat to be out and it takes him a little while to remember why he's warm.

All the reasons why he's warm.

Because Jack is still there, one arm thrown over Daniel's chest, curled into him to keep from falling off a bed which is wider than Daniel's but still not really made to accommodate two people. He's fast asleep and pressed against Daniel, loose and warm and sleepy and pliable.

And he's there. He's still there.



--

Note: This fic was very loosely inspired by this adorable post on tumblr. I read this and ... decided to do this with probably the couple that are LEAST likely to lend themselves to this sort of fluffy wardrobe-sharing shenanigans. Like that's going to stop me.



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Heh, I'm having to read so much good Jack/Daniel thanks to you I'm going to have to start shipping it out of self-defense :P

I love the way these two can't communicate to save their lives until the very end. XD