[music| Keep The Faith - Bon Jovi]
Author’s Notes: Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who has reviewed this story. I have been truly amazed and astonished by the amount of reviews I have received because of it. The 24 fandom and the Jack/Chloe fans in particular, has been definitely one of the most active and vocal in giving feedback that I have ever been involved in, and I cannot really say how motivating it is for me to see that my little story has been appreciated. I really am grateful that you’ve all taken the time to review, and I try to answer all of them if I can.
Secondly: I haven’t seen the 24 finale, but there’s a scene in this that may be reminiscent of one of the scenes in the finale. I wrote part of this a few weeks ago, and that scene was written before I heard anything about what happened in 24. So, I didn’t actually steal anything from the show, although it may appear a bit that way.
Thirdly…..I apologise for the appalling lateness of this final chapter. I had originally planned to write it last Monday fortnight and have it posted the following Tuesday night, as I had the time off work. Unfortunately, I got called in on my day off and work has been pretty hectic since. Thankfully, I managed to get my days off the past two days and I finally got it written. So, this is it, the third and final chapter of “Stuck In A Moment.” I hope it lives up to some of your expectations, but I have my doubts if it’s what you were expecting…..
The first day she’d went back to work after Jack’s declaration she’d been nervous and on edge. She watched him cautiously, waiting in both fear, and a little curiosity to see what he’d do. She was relieved, and a little disappointed, when he didn’t do anything. He smiled when he saw her in the morning as usual; chatted idly about how things had gone with the techs at DoD, and pretty much left her alone.
She was beginning to wonder if she’d imagined Jack standing in her apartment telling her he needed her.
It really began a few days later, with little things that nobody else would pay any particular attention to. He brought her coffee in the mornings, just the way she liked it, and he held doors open for her when they walked side by side. He seemed more in tune with the world around him, asking how she was doing more often than he used to, and simply listening to her when she spoke about everything and nothing. But it wasn’t just with her. It was with the people he worked with, even the people he met out on the field. He took the time to speak to them, to get to know a little more about those he worked with, and it helped the flow of work in CTU go more easily.
She had never expected him to take her words to heart so seriously and so quickly. Gone were the sullen looks and despondent demeanour, and in their place was a man who worked hard to be polite and good natured to those around him.
He still went on missions and she still had his back via her satellites, but what had amazed them both, was as the weeks went by they had grown even more close and more in sync when working together.
She had however, avoided being alone with him. When lunchtime came, she normally went out with Shari, or sometimes Jack would come along with them. She just couldn’t bring herself to be alone with him yet. It had been three weeks since she’d practically thrown him out of her apartment, and by some miracle, she’d managed to avoid being left alone in the same space with him since. He’d asked her over a few times, but she’d managed to fob him off with excuses, some of which were convincing while others wouldn’t convince a five year old.
All in all, their relationship was improving in almost every area and Chloe was finding it difficult to remember why exactly she was so adamant not to start a romantic relationship with this man.
Jack watched from the upstairs conference room as Chloe made her way around the floor at CTU, disappearing towards the archives department.
He closed his eyes, thinking about all that had happened over the past few weeks, and in particular how she had obviously been trying to avoid him.
Sometimes at night he could still feel it. He’d wake up in the dark after the nightmare and still hear her short, laboured breaths as she gave all she could to directing him about his task.
His ex-lover lying dead in one corner, his best friend dying just across from her while he frantically tried to input the data in the correct sequence, listening intently as she slowly recited directions and instructions.
His relief when none of the bombs had exploded had been eclipsed by the worry and guilt he’d felt over Chloe.
Audrey was dead. He knew that as soon as he’d looked over at her as he raced towards Chloe.
He clamped a hand across her neck, the bright red liquid beneath oozing and pooling between his fingers. He’d yelled for a medic and softly encouraged her to hang on. She smiled wanly at him, before her eyes rolled back and her head lolled into unconsciousness.
He couldn’t risk losing her again. It wasn’t until he’d almost lost her for good that he realised just how much he needed her and what she meant to him. Over the next months she’d helped him come to terms with what he’d done, both to her and to Audrey.
It also became more and more apparent to him just *how* much Chloe cared about him, and in turn, how much he cared about her.
He loved her. It was one of those things he couldn’t admit in the hard, cold light of day. But at night, when he was in bed, not quite asleep, but nearly there, he’d think of her and admit that he’d fallen for her. Chloe O’Brian, with all her little quirks and insecurities, her overly blunt comments and tremendous capacity to care.
He loved her, and he wasn’t going to let her slip through his fingers. She’d put up a fight, but he was determined, and when Jack Bauer set his mind to do something, there was very little that could stop him.
He’d worked undercover before, he knew how to play it subtle, but he also knew when the time came to push for what you wanted. He’d need all his skills to show Chloe just how right they were for each other.
It had become a generally accepted fact of life in CTU that Jack Bauer and Chloe O’Brien had a unique, and special, relationship. Nobody paid their odd pairing any notice any more, but occasionally, the rumour mill would start up again, questioning just how ‘close’ they both were.
This usually occurred when a new member of staff joined the CTU family, and couldn’t seem to figure out the connection between the ruggedly handsome, and dangerous Head of Field Operations and the snarky, but fair, Head Computer Analyst.
That morning though, a more overt indication to the nature of their strange relationship appeared in CTU, and the members of staff smiled at each other and whispered quietly amongst themselves as to what exactly had happened to have Chloe O’Brien flustered by a small token left on her desk.
She picked up the rose like it was a foreign object, her face contorting into confusion.
“Where’d this come from?”
Shari shrugged, “Dunno. Why? Don’t you like it?”
“I just didn’t expect to walk into work today and find a rose sitting on my desk. I mean, as far as roses go it looks like a nice rose, but still…it’s a little inappropriate.”
“Do you feel uncomfortable accepting a rose?”
“What?” Chloe turned her confused gaze to her work colleague.
“It could be considered a means of harassment, or even a threat,” Shari replied matter of factly.
Chloe rolled her eyes, “we’ve spoken about this before, Shari. You’ve got to stop thinking every man is out to harass any woman he meets! Besides, it’s a rose, not a decapitated horse head.”
Shari remained silent while she contemplated the young flower.
“What will I do with it?”
“You can throw it in the bin if you want.”
Chloe glared at her, and she shrugged.
“Get a glass from the break room and keep it in that until you go home.”
“You think that will work?”
“Hey, who owns the rose?”
They both turned when they heard Jack behind them, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.
“It’s from Chloe’s stalker,” Shari informed him helpfully.
“Stalker?” Jack’s eyebrows rose and he glanced at Chloe as she glowered at Shari.
“Shut up, Shari!”
She crossed her arms across her chest.
“I would have said an admirer rather than a stalker. You don’t like roses, Chloe?”
“It’s not that, I just think it’s unprofessional of me to have a rose sitting on my desk…but, um, I think I’ll keep it anyway.”
“Good,” he smiled softly at her, making her insides turn to mush and walked away, the smile not diminishing in one small bit.
“So,” Shari asked, watching Jack walk away, “he your stalker?”
“For God’s sake, Shari!” Chloe muttered as she headed for the break room.
She tried not to look at it, but she couldn’t help it. It was a perfect, red rose, accompanied by sprigs of green fern, and the white flower her parents used to call ‘cow parsley,’ wrapped in cellophane. She kept it between her computer and the station screen, safe from the prying eyes of the CTU floor.
She caught herself staring at it again, and scowled as she looked away, only to find herself caught in the gaze of her would be lover across the floor. He smiled crookedly down at her, as if he could read her mind and knew what she was thinking, so she just glared at him and looked away at her screen, determined to keep her mind focused on her work.
Beside her the phone bleeped.
“Chloe, have you got those reports I asked you for?”
“Of course, Mr Buchanon. I’m on my way.”
She gathered the sheets and folders and made her way up to upper offices. Buchanon waved her in and she handed him the reports.
“I ran the cross checks you asked for, but nothing came up linking any of the latest ‘watch list’ terrorists to the foiled attempt earlier this morning. I’ve got Shari following up on any recent incoming flyers from the Northern Africa as we speak, but so far she hasn’t come up with anything.”
She turned to leave, having said her piece, when Buchanon called her back.
“Chloe, I’m glad you see you’re finally getting back to your old self.”
“I know the past year has been a difficult time for both you and Jack, but you seem to be back to your normal self now. *You* had us scared for a while. We thought for a moment we’d lost you,” he leaned forward in his chair, his hands clasped on the desk in front of him.
“You know, I’ll never forget when Jack brought you to the hospital. They took you off to surgery so fast we all feared the worst. Jack was….well, like a demon possessed. Audrey’s father had just arrived to identify her body, and the doctors refused to tell him anything about you because he wasn’t a relative.”
He chuckled briefly as she fidgeted uncomfortably before him. “It took two of us to prise him off the doctor he pinned to the wall when he refused to give him any information about you. They made sure he was the first one to hear *anything* about you after that.”
“Why are you telling me all this now?” Chloe demanded. It seemed unlikely but she had to ask. “Has Jack said something to you?”
“No,” Buchanon said firmly, “but I have eyes, Chloe. I know the two of you, and I know when there’s something going on.”
She said nothing but looked away from his probing gaze.
“Chloe,” Buchanon said drawing her attention away from the floor, “half of CTU think you’re already sleeping together and the other half think you’re secretly married.”
Chloe felt her cheeks flame, but kept her mouth shut as he continued speaking.
“Now, I don’t know if the two of you have been involved like that, and to be perfectly frank, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you get up to on your own time as long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.”
She looked sharply at him, “I’ve never let anything interfere with my job.”
“I know that,” he replied calmly, “and I just want you to know, that I’m happy for the both of you.”
She rolled her eyes, “we’re not a couple.”
“I see the way he looks at you, Chloe.”
“He loved Audrey,” she said defensively, even though that excuse was becoming flimsier and flimsier. When was the last time she’d thought about Audrey when she was around Jack lately?
She stared at him.
“You’ve loved other men Chloe; does that mean he shouldn’t be with you? Jack deserves another shot at happiness, and so do you. Don’t throw that away.”
She frowned at him, her mouth turning down at one corner. “Whatever.” She said glibly before making her escape as quickly as possible out the door.
She made her way to car distractedly that evening, Buchanon’s words still sounding in her head. She laid the rose on top of her car and searched through her bag, cursing softly to herself when she couldn’t find her car keys. She was about to turn and head back inside when she was grabbed from behind. A hand planted itself firmly against her mouth, muffling any sounds she made, while a strong arm twisted around her waist hauling her towards a well muscled chest.
“Shhh, it’s all right.”
She stopped struggling as soon as she heard Jack’s voice, although her heartbeat still pounded in her ears. He took his hand away from her mouth, though his arm was still firmly planted around her waist.
She gulped in breaths of air, trying to calm herself down. “Jack, what are you doing?” she hissed attempting to turn around to see him. He wouldn’t allow her. Instead she could hear the grin he wore as he pressed his lips closer to her ear, his voice a seductive whisper. “Stockholm Syndrome, Chloe. We’re going to try out the theory.”
“Are you crazy?” she demanded as he drew her arms behind her back and she heard the click of the metal handcuffs snap into place. “You think you can kidnap me from the CTU parking lot?”
He brushed away some of her hair and kissed the side of her face.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a problem, Chloe. You’re not going to try and fight me, now are you?”
She didn’t trust herself to speak and so instead shook her head silently, though she could hear the blood rushing through her as he wound his left arm around her waist again, his hand splayed across her stomach.
He guided her towards his own car, a few spaces over and opened the passenger door for her, and it was the first time she got to see his face since he grabbed her. The thing was, he didn’t look any different. He was still Jack, with the break-your-heart smile and soft eyes that easily trapped her.
She huffed silently, though visibly displeased and he chuckled softly as he closed the door after her and climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Here, this is yours,” he said, placing the rose on her lap.
“Thanks,” she muttered looking out the side window.
She said nothing to him as they drove past the security guard and out onto the road. He seemed quite happy with that, though after driving around for twenty minutes, in the obvious direction of his house, she grew disgruntled.
“I don’t understand why you feel the need to kidnap me. If you wanted me to come over to the house, you could have just rung. That’s what normal people do. They don’t go around taking hostages.”
“It was the only way I could be sure you’d come.”
She snorted, “That’s ridiculous.”
He looked at her, an eyebrow raised. “Really? I asked you to come over last week and you refused.”
“That was different.”
“I didn’t want to come over last week.”
“And you probably wouldn’t have come over tonight either.”
“And *kidnapping* is your way of dealing with this?”
“I can be a patient man, Chloe,” he said quietly, “but my patience is wearing thin. We’re going to deal with us tonight, one way or the other. I’m sorry sweetheart, but I’m not giving you a choice this time. I won’t let you run away from this.”
He caught her eye, the seriousness and determination in his face and voice both scaring and exciting her. She looked away, chewing on her bottom lip thoughtfully until they pulled up at his driveway.
Once they got inside, she stood in the sitting room and was thankful that it was at least cleaner than the last time she’d been there.
“Jack, can you take the handcuffs off?”
He turned around and looked at her but didn’t make a move towards her.
“Please, I promise, I won’t do anything. I know we need to talk, and I promise I won’t run away or push you away this time, but….my arms are killing me. I think they might fall off if I don’t get these damn things off of me!”
He smiled and nodded, moving behind her and uncuffing her wrists. The top of her arms ached and her wrists stung. She gratefully brought her hands in front of her and rubbed her wrists soothingly. “I still don’t see why you needed to handcuff me,” she said, shooting him a glare.
“Maybe I’ll save these for later,” he murmured, glancing down at the metal cuffs and ignoring her comment.
She let an indignant gasp escape her and he laughed quietly as he disappeared into the kitchen.
“You know, if I wanted to, I could leave right now.”
“You wouldn’t get very far, Chloe,” he called back; “you know I’d only come after you and drag you right back.”
She rolled her eyes, unable to argue with him and wandered into the adjoining library. In all her times being here, she never really went into this room. Generally, they just sprawled out on the couch and large chairs while drinking beer and watching DVDs. Unless of course, Jack got so drunk he thought it was a good idea to show off his guitar playing skills to Chloe.
They’d both made a silent agreement not to mention his musical ability, or lack thereof, in the cold light of day. It would be too painful for both of them.
The library was a comfortable room, big and airy, with shelf after shelf of books and a large oak desk, with a PC that was gathering dust from lack of use.
She rifled through his shelves of books curiously, looking at the assortment and arrangement of different varieties. He obviously didn’t alphabetise.
She continued to walk around the room and admired some of the photographs scattered around of him and his family. She recognised Teri from pictures she’d seen in her files, his sister Carol and brother Mark. She smiled at one picture of Kim as a young girl in pigtails, when something on his desk caught her eye.
She moved closer, and picked up the small frame, her eyes widening in surprise at the photo within.
It was the two of them, but she had no memory of it. It was obviously taken outside of CTU buildings, after a long days work. Jack’s tie was loose and his jacket was slung over his shoulder, while her hair was a little messy and falling out from where it was clipped at the back of her head.
But it wasn’t their clothes that had drawn her attention. It was their expression. Jack smiled at her, and though the camera hadn’t captured it perfectly, there was something in his face that was reminiscent of the look he’d given her just a few short weeks before. Her gaze travelled to her own profile, which was clearly happy and smiling up at her friend. In truth, it was a lovely photograph, and she was envious she didn’t have it herself. She had no photographs of herself and Jack.
“Hey, Chloe. This is nearly ready,” Jack appeared at the doorway, a tea towel slung over one shoulder.
She looked up at him, silver frame still in hand.
“Where did you get this?”
He looked down at the picture and coloured a little, a smile on his face.
Her raised eyebrows told him that wouldn’t be explanation enough.
“It was taken about two, two and a half years ago. Kim was picking me up from work, because my car was in for repair, but she’d just bought this new high tech camera and couldn’t wait to try it out. She saw us and took a picture.” He shrugged and looked back at her as she studied the picture again.
“I’ve never noticed it before. Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
“I didn’t think you’d be that interested.”
“Can I get a copy?”
His smiled lit up his face, “of course you can.”
“Thanks. It’s a nice photo, and I don’t have one of just the two of us.”
“We can always get one done.”
She looked up at him sceptically. The thought of her and Jack posing in front of some cameraman while he told them to ‘move closer together’ or ‘look this way’ and ‘smile please’ was almost enough to make her laugh.
“No, I like this one.”
“Okay,” the crooked smile was back on his face, and she felt the beginnings of a reflective one tugging at the side of her mouth.
“Dinner’s ready, if you want to….”
“Sure,” she replied, setting the picture back down where she’d found it.
Jack Bauer was no gourmet chef, but he made an effort. The table was nicely laid and the rose he’d given Chloe sat predominantly in the centre. She felt a bit uneasy when she saw the lowered lights and good cutlery, china and glasses sitting on the table in front of her.
“What is it?” he asked standing beside her and touching her arm.
“Nothing, it’s just…I’m no good at this stuff, Jack. Dinner with a million different knives, and expensive dishes I’ll probably break.”
“Will you stop worrying, please? I promise, only one knife. Besides, I’m not exactly Gordon Ramsey. It’s just steak and chips all the way. I just wanted to do something nice for you.”
She smiled up at him, shyly. “This is nice. Thank you.”
He pulled out the chair for her and she sat down, her insides fluttering wildly as she waited for him to return.
The meal looked great, but she felt guilty that she couldn’t really taste it. Her stomach was in knots and eating was just a mechanical thing for her while the tension grew the longer the dinner went on. She could feel and see it in Jack’s frame, and the short, clipped sentences they exchanged.
Eventually, it ended and she breathed a sigh of relief when he cleared their plates away.
“Do you want desert?”
“No!” she exploded, then calmed down, “sorry. No, I think we should just do it.”
“Do it?” his mouth turned up in one corner in humour and she flushed in embarrassment.
“You know what I mean.”
“I do, come on.”
He lead her over to the settee and they sat down, side by side, awkwardly. She didn’t know who should start, or how. She wasn’t sure if she was sitting properly, maybe she should move to the far end of the couch, but then again she didn’t want him to think she didn’t want him touching her.
“Chloe, stop it.”
“What?” she said, looking at him in surprise.
“You’re thinking too much.”
She rolled her eyes, “I know.”
He reached out and touched her hand, slowly capturing both of hers in his larger, calloused hands.
“I’m sorry about how I got you here tonight.”
“Well, it was a little on the extreme side, Jack,” she sighed and admitted, “but you’re right. I probably wouldn’t have come tonight. I’ve been a little….off kilter since that night. I said stuff as well, stuff I shouldn’t have said.”
“That stuff about me dressing up like superman and thinking I can save the world.”
“I’m pretty sure you’d look better in tights than superman.”
He laughed softly, “thanks.”
She returned his smile and they sat in silence for a while. He looked down at their clasped hands, and drew large circles on the back of her hands with his thumbs.
“Chloe, I need you to know something. I want to be with you. I don’t know if you’re ready to hear this or not, but I can’t keep it from you anymore.” His eyes reached out to her and held her gaze as she held her breath. Barely realising she wasn’t breathing.
“I love you, Chloe,” his grip tightened on her hands, “I know I haven’t always been the best at showing you how much you mean to me…but, I love you and I will spend the rest of my life showing you how much, if you’ll let me.”
Chloe stared at him, eyes widened, “the rest of your life?” she repeated in wonder, not sure quite how to take it, “that’s a long time, Jack.”
“I know, but I’m going to need it. Flowers and dinners and small, silly little things might be all right in the short term to show you a fraction of how much you mean to me. But to get the full effect, I think I’m going to need the rest of my life to prove how much I love you,” he brought her hand up to his lips and kissed the backs of her fingers, never breaking eye contact with her.
She coloured, but smiled back at him, unable to stop herself. How had she gone this long without having him in her life the way they both wanted? And yet a few small reservations still tried to make themselves heard in her mind.
He smiled and brushed a strand of hair behind her ears. “If you’re willing to do this…we’re doing it all the way. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without you in it, in whatever capacity. I need you, Chloe. And not just at work. I need you here, in my home and in my life. And I promise you, if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life doing what I can to keep you safe and make you happy. I promise.”
“Jack, I, I don’t know what to say. I mean this is you and, and me, you know? Us! What if it all goes wrong?” she could hear her voice getting higher and more panicky, but couldn’t stop herself from talking, “I couldn’t bear it if we did something that ruined our friendship forever. I couldn’t. I need your friendship, I need you. We work so well together, what if we spoil it, Jack? What if it really doesn’t work?”
“But what if it does?” he countered quietly. “What if it does work, but we were too afraid to take the chance? After Teri died, I didn’t think I’d ever love another woman again. I didn’t think it was possible. Then Audrey came along and taught me that I could care about someone again. I’m always going to have to live with what happened that day, with what happened to Audrey, and what happened to you,” he traced the scar on her neck with a fingertip, “I’ll never forget that day, just like I’ll never forget the day Teri died, or the day Tony and Edger died, or…many other days. I’ve *never* lied to you about how I felt about Audrey. And I did care about her, Chloe, but I have never felt about her, the way I feel about *you*.”
She looked away, but he touched her cheek and forced her to look back at the sincerity of his face.
“I’ve always told you the truth, and I’m telling you the truth now. Do you believe me?”
She nodded, of course she believed him. She trusted Jack implicitly. She stared at him, watching him as he waited for some sort of sign from her that she’d take a chance. That she’d take a chance with him. He was everything she wanted, and perhaps it was the thought that she was everything that *he* wanted that scared her. After all, when she’d first met him, she *had* thought of him as a real life superman, an unattainable but desirable man who always could have the beautiful girl, and was always just of out reach for someone like her.
But as the years had gone by she’d come to know the man beneath the vestige, the Clark Kent of Jack Bauer, and the infatuation she had had with his superman was nothing compared for the deep and everlasting warmth, compassion, and, yes she’d admit it, love she felt for the real man few people ever got to see.
She loved him and trusted him, and he loved her and trusted her. What more could she want? They would never be the perfect suburban couple with the two point five kids, white picket fence and a dog running around their feet. They had both been through too much; they had too many painful memories to ever be that. Their jobs, if nothing else, would never allow it.
But they could be happy together. Buchanon was right, she had known it before he spoke to her, but she needed someone to give her a kick up the ass. They both deserved whatever happiness they could bring to each others lives. So why was she standing in the way?
“Jack, it doesn’t matter about Audrey anyway,” she started shakily.
Jack looked at her in surprise.
“I mean, you loved her, yeah. And I was having a hard time getting over that because I knew her and saw the two of you together, but then I was talking to Mr Buchanon, and he reminded me of something.”
“He got you too, huh?”
“Yeah, did you know we were such an active topic for gossip? I mean a ‘secret marriage,’ those people have been working in CTU for too long if they think we’ve a ‘marriage conspiracy’ going on,” she shook her head, clearing it of stray thoughts and trying to stay on topic. “Anyway, my point is, I’ve loved other men before you. You weren’t there to see them, but that doesn’t make what I shared with them any less real, that what you shared with Audrey. So why should I be acting as if it is? I’m not explaining this very well,” her brow furrowed and she lowered her eyes, but he placed two fingers beneath her chin and tilted it up, forcing her to look back up at him.
“It’s okay; I know what you’re trying to say.”
“Good,” she nodded her head vigorously, and then paused, “You know I love you, right?”
He grinned at her, “Well, it wouldn’t hurt to hear it once in awhile.”
She rolled her eyes and smiled, “Fine. Jack Bauer, I love you. I’m completely and utterly crazy about you. I’m a bit crazy in general anyway, but I’m definitely *more* crazy about you. I’m babbling again, aren’t I?”
“Don’t worry about it. I think it’s kinda….sexy.”
“Oh really? I should probably do more of it in the future then.”
“I’m not objecting.”
“So, you really think we can make this work?” she asked him moving closer towards him and resting her forehead against his.
“I do,” he answered, truthfully and firmly.
She smiled and pulled back a little. “Good, because so do I.”
She didn’t give him time to react, instead moved forward again and pressed her lips against his.
“Now, where did you put those handcuffs?”
(c) Copyright 2006, held by the author.