They spent Valentine's Day 'in' at Sam's apartment. Sam ordered Chinese, and Martin brought an "X-Files" DVD and a six-pack of Sam Adams. They exchanged cards and Martin gave Sam a dozen red roses. She smiled, thanked him, and then, a little shyly, gave him a box of Godiva chocolates, no doubt purchased at the Barnes & Noble just a few blocks from the office.
"It's a silly holiday," Sam said with some feeling as they sat shoulder to shoulder on the sofa. The air was heavy with the scent of General Tzu’s chicken, shrimp fried rice and oily pork egg rolls. Martin put his feet up on the coffee table, carefully avoiding the white cartons of food.
"Is that why you didn't want to go out tonight?" Martin asked. He'd pressed Sam, last week, when they'd been on their way to pick up the suspect who'd gotten a hold of Rosie Diaz's missing video games, for dinner and movie. "Just think," he had said, "we can go out, be seen in public, like normal people." Sam had laughed and then shook her head. "Let's stay in," she'd said. "I prefer it." And Martin had acquiesced, hating that as always, he gave in to Sam, simply because they both knew she had the upper hand.
"Other than I like being at home with you? Where it's comfortable and non-commercial?" Sam asked.
"Those are all good reasons for staying in tonight," Martin said, deciding not to point out he could count on one hand how many times he and Sam had been out on a date in public in the nine months they'd been sleeping together. "So what's your argument against Valentine's Day then?"
"It promotes feelings of inadequacy, no matter what side of the equation you're on. If you're single, then it's a question of being alone when everyone else is celebrating the concept of love. If you're with someone, it's the pressure of getting just the right gift." She glanced sideways at Martin. "It's contrived," she said. "Nothing but an overwrought confection of pink and red and an excuse to sell flowers, cards and chocolates."
Martin tried to smile. "I didn't think you felt so strongly about Valentine's Day."
Sam reached forward, helped herself to some fried rice. "Emotion should be spontaneous, not calculated. That's how I like it."
"Hmmm." Martin rested his arm gently around Sam's shoulders and he was pleased when she didn't pull away. They watched the episode -- one of Martin's favorites, an episode dealing with a man who had amazing mind control powers -- in comfortable silence. Occasionally, Sam would tense or let out her breath in a sharp exhale and Martin would smile. He knew Sam wasn't as into the "X-Files" as he was, but she seemed to enjoy watching the episodes with him. At the conclusion of the episode, Martin turned off the DVD player, and looked expectantly at Sam. "So, Mulder and Scully?"
"What about them?"
"You think we're anything like them?"
Sam scoffed. "You mean, are we a pair of brooding, paranoiac skeptics?"
"That's a little harsh." Martin was silent for a moment. He thought about pointing out the similarities -- male and female FBI agents, working in close proximity under tight and stressful conditions, but who still managed to keep their relationship both personal and professional -- but then decided not to; in a selfish way, he wanted Sam to come to the appropriate conclusion himself.
"It's a television show, Martin," Sam said. "It's not real life. Things don't happen that way."
"You know, ending up close friends and then lovers and just knowing from the very moment you meet you are destined to end up together." Sam waved her chopsticks and a rice grain fell back onto her plate. "Things just don't happen like that, at least, not in my experience."
Martin felt his chest tighten. "We started off as friends."
Sam regarded him with slight amusement. "Yes, of course."
And he couldn't help but get that feeling he'd been feeling lately, about being the one Sam settled for because she couldn't have the man she really wanted. He managed to relax a little when Sam rested her head on his shoulder, laid her hand on his thigh.
"Danny guessed about us," Martin said cautiously. "It's only a matter of time before everyone else does too."
"You want to make a pre-emptive strike."
"Secrecy was your idea, not mine."
Sam got up and prowled the apartment restlessly. "I prefer to think of it as 'professional', Martin. I don't want our--" she paused by the window "--feelings to get in the way." The peculiar way she put emphasis on the word 'feelings' caught Martin's attention. He watched as she drew the blinds before turning her attention back to him. "I don't want to cause trouble."
"Is it because of Jack?" Martin asked impulsively. He had noticed -- had seemed more attuned these days actually -- Jack putting his hand possessively on Sam's back and the fact when Jack was speaking, Sam would lean in closer, seemingly to absorb and give additional weight to every word Jack spoke. Jack was available now; divorced, his wife and kids in Chicago. With the exception of the supervisor-subordinate relationship -- and there were ways to get around that complication -- Martin felt conditions were ripe for Jack to make his move, for Samantha to accept if that's what she still wanted. Given that context, it was impossible to not burden every interaction Sam and Jack shared with hidden meaning. It was hard, Martin had to admit, to rein in the occasional flare of jealousy. He felt if everyone knew about his relationship with Sam, maybe it would eliminate the threatening specter of Jack, but more importantly, it would give him the stamp of validation he so desperately needed. "Sam?"
"I already explained," she said coolly. "End of story."
Martin always hated it when Sam shut down like this. When it came to Sam's affair with Jack, he knew very little other than that more than three years ago, they'd been involved. He'd asked once how long and Sam had looked away. "A while," she had said, and then refused to elaborate on what that meant. He'd tried, on more than one occasion, to probe Sam's feelings for Jack, but she never said more then, "He wanted to save his marriage. It wouldn't have worked in the long term." Left unspoken were Sam's own desires, but Martin had watched Jack during the hostage crisis when Sam had been shot. Martin had seen the expression in Jack's eyes, the way Jack's grip on the phone tightened whenever he spoke to Barry Mashburn. From the command center, Martin had watched Jack strip his suit jacket, untuck his white shirt and remove his black tie, and walk into that bookstore –- hands in the air –- to save Samantha. Jack, a man with a wife and two small daughters, risking his life for this woman; Martin knew Jack's actions that day went beyond the ordinary responsibilities of a supervisor.
"I'm just pointing out," Martin said now, "people are going to know sooner or later about—-" he stopped, unsure of where to go next. Was this the right time to talk about their feelings? He couldn't help but think his emotion wasn't reciprocated at quite the same level, that Samantha viewed their relationship more casually and perhaps as a short-term fling. He didn't want to spook her, but when he allowed himself the luxury of imagination, Martin could see a future with Sam.
Sam twisted her hands together, her longer fingers intertwining. "Maybe I don't want to share *us* yet." She smiled, the left side of her mouth slightly more elevated than the right, but the expression in her eyes never softened or warmed. She came and sat next to him on the sofa, pressed her lips to his cheek with firm pressure, her hand once again resting on his thigh. Martin let Sam push him down on the sofa.
"I just want to make sure we're on the same page," Martin said after a few minutes. Sam, her blouse unbuttoned to midriff, stared at him.
"In what way?"
Martin took a deep breath. "I know it's a risk, all relationships are," he said. "And sometimes you just have to let go, let it all fall to the wayside and--" he offered her what he hoped was a confident smile "--make a decision that you're okay with the direction things are going in, that you aren't going to hide because you're afraid acknowledging the elephant in the room somehow makes you more accountable, more committed."
Sam stared at him, her face luminous in the gentle glow coming from the table lamp just behind her. A second later, she reached back and removed the rubber band holding her hair back from her face. Martin cupped her face with his hand; her skin was cool and soft beneath his touch. As she leaned down towards him, Martin closed his eyes. And he couldn't help but wonder as Sam peppered kisses along the curve of his jaw, down his neck and to the slight indentation at the clavicle bone, whether she was thinking of Jack.
"I don't want to be your fallback," Martin said. He cleared his throat. Sam looked startled.
"What?" she asked.
"Because it didn't work out with Jack. I don't want to be the rebound guy."
"That was three years ago." Sam sounded impatient.
"I just want to know for certain," Martin said. "I want to know for sure this secrecy at work has nothing to do with Jack." His palms were sweaty, his skin hot. Every sensation seemed amplified. He could feel the sag of the sofa cushions beneath him, the ticking of the wall clock, and outside on the street, the distinct wail of sirens.
"I'm not sure how to convince you of that." Sam was quiet for a moment. He reached up and wrapped a strand of her hair around his fingers. "What happened between Jack and me took place a long time ago, Martin." She inhaled sharply. "I won't deny there will always be a bond between us because of that."
She looked puzzled. "There's no 'but'." She kissed the tip of his nose. "It's Valentine's Day, Martin. Not a great time to be talking about the other guy." She laughed. "The past is the past and--" she kissed the side of his neck "--and I'm more interested in the now. Just you, me, and no one else. Not even that damned elephant of yours."
"Telling everyone would make me feel better. Or at the very least, not hiding the way we--" he cleared his throat "-- that we're not just colleagues and friends."
Sam tipped her head to the side, so that her blond hair gently grazed her cheek. "Okay," she said softly. "Let me think about it, okay? This is--" she waved a hand, seemingly at a loss for words "-- I'm not used to this kind of pressure." She gave a small laugh.
"I'm not trying to pressure you, Sam. I just want us to be honest." Martin took a deep breath. "I just need to know whether I should continue to invest emotionally in you and me."
Sam blanched. "Is that an ultimatum?"
"No, just being honest." Martin licked his lips. His throat felt dry. Wasn't there some statistic out there that said half of all dating couples split on Valentine's Day?
"Well, I was being honest before," Sam said. "When I told you maybe I didn't feel like letting the whole world in. Yet."
Martin realized that was as close to an emotional commitment as he was going to get out of Sam. He pulled Sam down to him, breathing in the light musk of her perfume. She was warm, and he loved the way she fit against him, the way they were able to move together. And while he couldn't deny the implications of her 'yet', what it could mean for the future, he still couldn't shake his gut feeling that he was merely Jack's shadow.
"Okay," he said in a hoarse voice, pressing his lips close to her ear. "We'll do it your way." And even as he tightened his arms around her, he couldn't help but feel Sam slipping away.
~ the end
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