Two Year Later……
A sharp yelp outside distracted her momentarily. As she glanced out the window, her eye was caught by a dog outside running across the grass, his tail wagging incessantly. She sighed quietly, brushing a strand of dark auburn hair out of her eyes. She was tired and cranky, and it was her last class of the day. She just wished she could be out there instead of in this room, with its many desks and just as many faces. At the moment she wanted nothing more than to go home, put the kettle on and settle down with her laptop and enjoy the quiet.
The students, noticing their teacher’s momentary inattentiveness began talking amongst themselves and Chloe shot them a glare as she turned around and started writing on the large board behind her. Immediately quietening them.
“Okay,” she said turning briskly back to the class, “who can tell me what Bill McKibben was trying to convey in The End of Nature?”
“Eh, that a trick question?” the laid back student at the front asked, his bushy eyebrows drawn together, “cause I’d have thought the title really explained it all.”
Chloe rolled her eyes, “No Douglas that is not a trick question! Are you sure you’re in the right school? This is MIT not preschool!”
She sighed again and rubbed her forehead, turning back to the board and writing on it. “Okay, let’s start this again, shall we?”
Behind her she heard the door creak open and shut close, the obvious sign of a student attempting to sneak in. And if there was one thing Professor Chloe O’Brien detested more than anything else, it was tardiness.
“This class starts at three p.m. I do you the courtesy of turning up on time, and I expect the same from my students,” she bit out harshly, turning on the balls of her feet and immediately coming into contact with the wayward student.
Her eyes widened, and her mouth fell open in a silent ‘Oh’.
For a split second he froze, trapped like a deer caught in the headlights, but in an instant he’d recovered and a lazy grin grew across his face.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his familiar husky voice causing the blood to rush through her ears. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. I can leave if you want, I’ll wait outside.”
She swallowed hard, alarm bells ringing in her head, and wet suddenly dry lips.
“No, no that’s- that’ s okay.”
Her forehead furrowed as she tried to compose herself. Jack Bauer had just shown up in the middle of her class.
Immediately, she snapped back into teacher mode and looked around at her students, many of whom was glancing curiously between her and the man at the back of the room who had managed to slip into one of seats and look as if he belonged there.
She looked at Jack, her face hard and wiped of its surprise. He was a reminder of a past she had tried so desperately hard to forget.
“Don’t disrupt the rest of my class.”
His eyebrows rose a fraction but then he shrugged easily and leaned back into plastic moulding. “Of course. I’m sorry I disrupted this much already.”
She gave him a brief nod and directed her attention back on her students.
“Randy, why do the firewalls of the so called greatest ‘virus protectors’ not work against the newer viruses?”
“Uh, well, I guess, that would be because new viruses are appearing everyday attacking new systems and programmes that weren’t even created when some of the great anti-virus software first came on the market.”
She asked questions and listened to answers, all the while being intently aware that he watched her from the back of the room. She could feel her pulse race unwillingly. Part of her was overjoyed to see him – it was Jack after all, but a part of her was annoyed and plain afraid, that being around him would bring back feelings and hurt that she had worked so hard to put behind her.
She knew he spoke to Chase about her. She’d flown out to him and looked after Angela one night when he was forced to work late. The phone had rang, and even without Jack Bauer’s name flashing up on the screen, she would have known that number anywhere. She had frozen, unable to reach for the phone. Her palms had turned slick and sweaty and by the time she decided she was being stupid and answer it, the damn thing stopped ringing.
She’d spent nearly an hour interrogating Chase as to why Jack was calling him and eventually he’d given in and let her know that every once in a while Jack called.
“Just to make sure you’re doing okay.” Chase said, a small smile on his face.
Chloe had been disconcerted and said nothing, retiring to bed and trying to stop her whirring brain.
That had been eighteen months ago, and neither had mentioned it again.
She hated that he had come here, that he couldn’t leave her alone, yet, a part of her was relieved to see he wasn’t dead, he was alive and well and she could see him with her own eyes. That part of her that would always love him, no matter what he ever did, that part of her nearly fell for him all over again when he walked through the doors twenty minutes ago.
She risked a quick glance at him and he flashed a smile at her, one that seemed to imply he was impressed with her.
She frowned, feeling a headache coming on. She looked at the watch, ten minutes left until class finished, but it was the last of the day, so what the hell?
“Okay, I expect your dissertation papers sitting on my desk waiting for me at the start of next class. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
Eagerly, the students packed up, throwing grateful glances at each other that their day was finally over. One or two of them whispered and elbowed each other in the ribs as they filed passed the dirty blonde haired stranger, focusing solely on their petite professor.
When the final student was gone, Jack left his place and took the steps down to the front of the class, and the teacher’s desk.
She didn’t meet his eyes, instead continuing to pack away books and pens.
“What do you want, Jack?” she asked tiredly.
“Is there some place we could talk?” he looked around, seemingly in a casual way, but she knew he could probably tell her how many panes of glass were in each and every window in the room.
She sighed, and snapped her case shut. “Fine. There’s a café place just next door to my apartment block. We can go there. It’s located on-”
“I know where you live, Chloe.”
She frowned but remained silent. For some reason the idea that Jack knew where she lived bothered her.
“Let’s go then,” she replied, leaving the classroom and not bothering to check if he was following her. She didn’t need to, she knew he was.
They waited until their order had been taken and their mugs of coffee delivered to them before either started speaking. It was Chloe who eventually broke the tense silence hanging over them.
“What are you doing here, Jack?” she asked tersely, her hands wrapped around the mug in front of her to stop them from wringing each other.
He didn’t beat around the bush. Jack could be just as blunt as her when he wanted to be.
“I need your help, Chloe.”
She rolled her eyes and sat back into the booth, snorting to herself as she shook her head.
“No, Jack!” she bit out desperately, “I left LA and CTU behind me. I have a better life now, one that I actually enjoy. One where I don’t have to worry about the people I care about being killed in what would be considered ‘a routine day in the office’.”
She placed the mug down and moved her hands away, but before she left them from the table, he reached out and tapped the back of her hand.
“I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think I’d another option, Chloe. I need someone I can trust implicitly, and you’re the only one that matches that description.”
The Chloe of two years ago would have felt her heart leap for joy at such a proclamation from Jack, but the older, more confident Chloe wouldn’t allow it. She was his emotional crutch, too often he’d played her feelings and their friendship to manipulate her to get what he wanted. She wouldn’t fall for it this time. Even if her heart had start beating a little faster at the implication that he still trusted her after over two years absence.
“There are plenty of qualified people at CTU you can trust to do their jobs properly, Jack.” She drummed her fingers on the worn table top. “Matthews for example. He may have always been a smart ass, but he’s never taken a step wrong.”
“He transferred to the NY branch last fall.”
“Oh,” she frowned in thought, “well, what about Sholtz? Samantha was always a diligent worker, and very thorough.”
Jack’s eyes slid away for a moment, “she was killed. Shot in an assassination attempt on Bill Buchanon.”
“What?!” Chloe sat up straighter, “huh, I guess when you leave CTU, you really are dead to everybody there.”
“Chloe,” Jack sighed, closing his eyes briefly, before snapping open and frowning at her. “Look, if I was looking for somebody competent, I could go with any one of the techies at CTU, you know we don’t recruit wasters. But I need someone that’s competent, that I can trust and that I work well with. You’re the only who fits that profile.”
“Jack, I don’t work for CTU anymore,” she insisted, her resolve weakening a little.
“Well start,” he snapped. “Damn it Chloe, you know as well as I do that some things are more important than our personal lives, and this happens to be one of them. We don’t have time for your personal issues, regarding me or CTU.” He gripped her hand tighter, “I’m telling you I need you, and your country needs you,” his steely gaze pinned her and she felt a jolt to her chest, she was almost afraid to look away from him. Damn those eyes! As if sensing her thoughts, Jack leaned closer. “I know you’ll help me,” he added softly, “because if you don’t you’re not the same Chloe I used to know.”
Her chin jutted to the side, and her hands curled into fists under the table as she fought the urge to jump up and tell him she wasn’t the same Chloe he’d known back in LA, that she didn’t come running every time he called. But her conscience got the better of her. As usual, people’s lives were at risk, and if there was something she could do to prevent the loss of even one life, she had to do it. Despite her personal objections.
Before she could answer him, his cell phone chirped and he answered it with his typical no nonsense “Bauer.” He said nothing else but looked at her once during the conversation, his expression hardening.
“She’ll do it,” she heard him say before snapping the phone shut again. She glared at him, hating that he knew her well enough to know when she’d decided to help him – against her own better judgment.
“We need you, Chloe,” any softness that had been there moments ago had disappeared and the tension had returned to his shoulders.
She looked at him in the eyes, meeting his gaze with a steady one of her own. “Fine. What do you need?”
While his face remained devoid of emotion, Chloe knew him well enough to see the tension ease a little out of his frame.
“I need you to be ready to come back to LA in fifteen minutes.”
To be continued…..