Chloe stood at her locker, taking down the odd pieces and pictures stuck to the inside of the door. For the first week after her outburst, Jack had tried to talk to her, but he only got as far as saying her name in that soft, breathy sigh he used when speaking to her, before she instantly turned the topic to a work related matter or interrupted another worker, just to avoid him. Eventually, he gave up. She was relieved; it would make this so much easier. At least, that’s what she told herself.
But he still watched her, his brooding, conflicting gaze would instantly clash with hers when she felt his intense look. He’d stare at her for a second, before seeming to realise what he was doing and look away, shaking his head and concentrating on something, or someone, else.
She had treated her last day as she had treated her first. There would be no ‘farewell’ drinks after work; neither would there be any surprise gatherings in the canteen, or pretty cakes to cut. She hated all that, it only made her even more uncomfortable in a crowded room.
Those who would miss her most let her know in the simplest of ways. She had been surprised when, on separate occasions, Mr Buchanon and Curtis had both expressed regret at her decision to leave, and wished her all the best for the future. The sincerity coming from them had stunned her at first – she had rarely worked with people before who took the time to understand her and respect her skills as much as those in LA. And she couldn’t help feeling a twinge of regret at leaving them behind.
But they had been small moments in a hectic day. She didn’t have time for fuss, she just had to get her work done and do it as best as she could.
Her brow knotted as she emptied the last of her belongings into the rucksack she’d brought with her into work.
She whipped around, her heart beating wildly and scowled into the face of Jack Bauer.
“Dammit, Jack. You shouldn’t go sneaking up on people like that. You could get shot. Again.”
He flashed a crooked smile at her that only lasted an instant before it disappeared again.
He hesitated, looked nervously towards the door of the large room and looked back at her, clearing his throat.
“So, you’re really doing this?”
“Yes,” she swallowed whatever lump had mysteriously appeared in her throat and returned her attention to emptying the last of her locker.
Her breath hitched when she felt his hand splayed across her lower back, the heat of his palm burning into the sensitive skin of her back. She stopped the small gasp from escaping her mouth, her teeth nipping at her lower lip, and her eyes screwed tightly shut to try and ignore the burning behind her lids.
“Please don’t do this,” he was so close to her, she could feel the warmth of his breath rustling the stray stands of hair at her temple, could feel the intensity of his gaze as he silently pleaded with her, his hand unconsciously dragging her closer to him.
She finally opened her eyes and looked him. He was beautiful, his eyes were so expressive, and his jaw was covered with a days growth that looked so tempting, she felt her hand twitch at her side as she contemplated touching his cheek, just to know what it felt like.
She slammed the locker door shut and stepped back, away from his potent presence, and already she could see the sadness and resignation dimming the brightness of his eyes.
“I can’t lose you,” he seemed as surprised as she that those words had stumbled out of his mouth, but the honesty behind them couldn’t be denied.
She frowned in confusion, a vertical line appearing between her eyebrows.
“You don’t have me to lose.”
She was lying, and perhaps he knew that. God, he’d had her from almost the first moment she’d met him. She remembered how he’d shown up at her door with Chase in tow. With his haunted eyes but kind smile, he’d caught her, as effectively as if he’d lassoed her. There was a thin thread connecting her to him, and she suspected no matter how far away she managed to go it would always remain. She rolled her eyes at her wistfully poetic thoughts and shook away old memories that would only make this more difficult.
“I have to go now,” she lifted her eyes to look at him, and froze at the intent look on his face. She had never seen him look at her like that before, and she scrunched her face, unable to deal with it now, or process what it meant. So she did the only thing she could do when she was nervous and unsure. She talked. “I left the last hourly reports on your desk. You should look at them. I didn’t see anything above the normal chatter. Nothing any more suspicious than usual.” She shrugged and began to turn away, lifting the rucksack onto one shoulder.
“You weren’t going to say goodbye to me, were you?”
His voice caused her to hesitate and she turned back to him, the truth obviously evident in her eyes if the flash of anger in his own was anything to go by.
“I don’t like awkward, Jack. And this,” she swept her hands between the two of them, “is awkward. And annoying, and…hurtful. You hurt me. I don’t want to hurt anymore, Jack.”
He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, but eventually his head dipped, his chin almost resting on his chest as he heaved a heavy sigh and nodded his head in acknowledgement.
She was right, he did hurt her. And while the thought of never seeing her again sent panic racing through every nerve ending he had, he knew being around him was slowing eating her alive. Destroying her. Just like it had everyone else. He couldn’t give her what she needed, what she sought from him. He couldn’t risk it. She was better off far away from him.
“Okay,” it came out as a strangled sound and he cleared his throat, trying again. “Take care of yourself, Chloe. And don’t forget, if you i ever /i need me…”
She nodded her head jerkily, her eyes feeling hot and sore from refusing to acknowledge the moisture that was gathering there.
“Goodbye, Jack.” She spared him one final look before finally turning and slipping out the door.
He stared at the empty space she had once occupied, not quite able to grasp that she’d actually left CTU, and him.
“She’ll be okay, you know.”
Jack looked up at Audrey, a soft smile on her face as she walked towards him and slipped her arm through his.
He attempted to smile at her, but his lips barely curled up at the corners. “I know….I just… I can’t help worrying about her.”
Audrey squeezed his arm encouraging him to look back at her. “She’s a big girl, Jack. Chloe can look after herself. Besides, don’t you think it’s time she got a life outside of CTU and…you?”
Jack’s forehead crinkled in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
Audrey raised a perfectly waxed eyebrow, a smirk spreading on her face, “Jack, for someone so observant, you can be quite dense at times.”
She leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. When they pulled apart he still looked confused but also uncomfortable, although he didn’t ask her to explain herself again.
“I’ve to give Buchanon the latest DoD update,” she smiled brightly at him, and it seemed so out of place in light of him losing one of his friends, that he couldn’t manage anything other than a frown. Still, she continued smiling. “Are you coming?”
“Yeah, I…I’ll be there in a second.” He flashed her a reassuring smile and she pecked him on the lips quickly before leaving him behind.
Jack watched her go, a line forming between his eyebrows. He moved towards the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of Chloe as she left, but she was already gone by the time he thought to look for her.
He didn’t like to think what Audrey had meant. He was aware Chloe sometimes seemed rather fond of him, but he put that down to the close friendship they both enjoyed, he shied away from admitting it was anything more to either of them, and it bothered him that others had obviously made their own judgements, even if those others included his other half.
To be continued…..