Characters: Jack, Renee, Kim, Stephen, Little Teri
Warnings: Sex, language, brief violence. Post S7; spoilers through 7x24. Also, my usual disclaimer about Jack/Renee smush applies. If you dislike it, definitely move on.
Summary: It seems improbable that a guy in a coma could make for engaging company, but she’s been alternating twelve hour shifts with Kim for ten days, and it’s only now, when Jack’s finally awake, that she has time to think.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters. They own me. It’s embarrassing, really.
A/N: Remember that time I wrote some pretty decent Jack/Renee fic? This is not that time. This is me trying to write myself out of the biggest writing sucktasm in recent history. You’ve been warned. I’ll save the most egregious gushing gratitude for my journal, but I can’t skip three people. dealan311, for listening and helping me to look at so much of this from a different perspective. lowriseflare, for being just plain awesome. I like that shirt;) adrenalin211 No words. Total . . . JUST!!! Times a gazillion.
Finally, these started out as songfic drabbles. Don’t ask:) I’ve included the song list in order by section in the fic itself. Part two should be up by Tuesday.
Thanks to Adrienne, a songs link: Songs for Not Dark Yet 1/2.
1) Not Dark Yet – Bob Dylan
2) In the Deep – Bird York
3) I Shall Believe – Sheryl Crow
4) By Your Side - Sade
5) My Angel – Dave Matthews
6) Let Go – Frou Frou
It comes back slowly.
Fragments, random and disconnected. He tries to concentrate. It takes time to find a label for the sensation enveloping him.
He’s supposed to be dead. Yet that can’t be right.
It’s too comfortable to qualify as hell. But he’s pretty sure there’s an IV in his arm and he thinks probably heaven doesn’t have IVs. He doesn’t believe in heaven or hell anyway. Something else has to be going on here.
Muted voices constantly circling, too many to sort. One calm, authoritative female voice seems familiar, but he’s too tired and unfocused to connect the dots. Hands on him everywhere, gentle yet still violating. He’d protest if he could figure out how to move or speak.
His mind and his body are apparently disconnected.
He’d probably lose it if it weren’t for the two voices that anchor him. One is anxious, jittery, sometimes high-pitched, moving from place to place so often he can never predict the direction from which she’ll speak.
The other is soothing, gentle, ineffably sad. Rather than moving around the room, this voice is stationary, on his level, somewhere close to him.
When he’s finally alert enough to feel the cold slide of a needle slipping into his arm inside the curve of his elbow, he can’t escape the only logical conclusion.
He’s not dead.
He doesn’t know how he feels about this.
He never factored it in to the possible outcomes. Still, now that he’s figured it out, all he wants is to get up, demand to know what the hell is going on.
Finally, after what feels like days of trying, he forces his eyelids upward against the flood of cement pouring over them from the other direction. For a moment all he sees is light, excessively bright and painful enough to give him an instant headache.
Beside his bed an outline, accents of cream and red. The voice – the sad one – whispers, “Jack?” A pause. “Kim’s down the hall sleeping. I’ll get her.”
She hasn’t been gone for more than ten seconds when the images finally sort themselves into a coherent whole, the way a 3-D picture suddenly swims into focus when you hold your eyes just right.
He’s in the hospital. The voices. Dr. Macer. Kim. Renee.
He closes his eyes again, and that’s as far as he’s gotten when through the residual fog he hears the door open, the rush of heels clicking across the floor.
“Daddy.” Her head lands on his shoulder, arms stealing gingerly around his neck as if she might break him.
Minutes must pass before he manages to whisper, “Sweetheart, I told you not to do this.”
Her lips on his cheek, her small hand in his as time folds and the last twenty years vanish. “I know. I did anyway. Wonder who I got that from?”
Her tears make his face slippery. His last thought before he goes under again is that he’d cry too if he had any energy left inside him.
The silence in her apartment is so palpable it feels loud, in the paradoxical way ice burns when you hold it to your skin for too long.
She stands inside the door, motionless. Her hands are shaking. She drops her bag on the floor and squeezes them together to see if that will help.
Renee looks around her apartment now, clenching her fists to quash the desire to throw things. It’s as if somehow her key magically opened the wrong door and offered her admittance into someone else’s life. Logically she knows the things in these rooms belong to her, but given the events of the past week and a half, it feels as if something should be different. Anything.
It seems improbable that a guy in a coma could make for engaging company, but she’s been alternating twelve hour shifts with Kim for ten days, and it’s only now, when Jack’s finally awake, that she has time to think.
She doesn’t want to think. She wants to go back on autopilot and stay there, possibly for the rest of her life.
The inside of her head feels like a high-def television with all the channels on at once. She hears Wilson screaming, sees his blood splattered on the floor, her shoes. President Taylor’s level voice on the phone, saying something about keeping things quiet, not worrying about the AG right now.
She sees herself standing by Larry’s casket, studying the dark grain of the wood and wondering again how someone’s entire existence can be condensed, reduced to the contents of a box made from trees. She knows it can’t – that his life was so much more – but in that moment it was only the numbness that saved her from some sort of embarrassing public display of hysteria.
She’s pouring herself a glass of water in the kitchen when she notices the coffee cup sitting at the corner of the sink. It says FBI in navy block lettering, and for some reason this strikes her as horrifically funny – so much so that she honestly laughs out loud, but it doesn’t sound like a laugh at all. The noise scares her. The worst part is that the damn mug has been sitting there since the morning she gulped most of it before rushing out the door to pull Jack from the senate hearings.
There’s still at least half an inch of coffee at the bottom, beginning to congeal.
She should rinse it out.
Her cell rings and she jumps, searching for it in the pocket of her hoodie. Her eyes are so tired she doesn’t bother to squint at the caller ID.
“Walker.” Even her voice sounds like someone else’s.
“You didn’t-” He’s so exhausted he has to pause for breath. “Have to leave.”
“Jack. Hang up the phone. You can’t even talk!” She grips the cold ceramic of the offending coffee cup. “I’ll be back first thing tomorrow.”
“Kim said you’ve-” His long pauses are making her sick, but she doesn’t want to hang up on him. “Been here the whole time.” A deep breath. She can hear the PA system in the background, but the words are indecipherable. “You didn’t have to-”
“Jack. Just stop. Be quiet. I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do. I’ll talk to you in the morning. I’m hanging up now.” She’s trying so hard to be firm, but even she can hear the quiver in her voice.
“Okay. Night,” he whispers.
She slaps the phone shut, eyes filled with tears.
Fiercely, she dumps the contents of the coffee cup into the sink and turns on the water, watching the blurry brown liquid as it swirls in circles and slips down the drain.
The tv remote taunts him.
It can’t be more than two feet away, resting on the grey plastic table only inches from the silver bedrail, but he still can’t lift his arm to reach it. Onscreen, two people who are apparently refugees from the eighties throw their unnaturally well-toned bodies around on some bizarre abdominal exerciser, smiling the entire time.
It’s not Kim’s fault; he asked her to leave the TV on when he finally convinced her to go back to her hotel and get some sleep. But then Notorious was on and now it’s . . . this. He hasn’t been awake for a full day and this place already makes him feel as if he has thousands of microscopic mosquito bites on the inside of his skin, where fingernails can’t reach.
He’s reworking his original assumption that he’s not in hell when he hears a voice from the doorway.
“Hi.” Renee stands there, neither in nor out of the room, one arm holding a large stack of books and the other clutching the strap of her shoulder bag. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, making it even easier to see the jagged pink scar that bisects the skin on her neck.
He quickly looks back into her eyes. “Hi,” he manages. Just speaking now requires a level of focus and concentration that would make him want to hit things if he had the energy. When she doesn’t move he adds, “Renee, come in and sit down.”
She walks toward him, glancing at the tv. “Is that on your Christmas list?”
He tries to laugh but it comes out more like a cough. “At the top. Who needs enhanced interrogation techniques-” He pauses for a deep breath. “When you’ve got this on DVD?”
There’s a slip in her expression before her facial muscles are back under her control, and he kicks himself internally for being such a fucking idiot. Way to poke a stick into everything that hurts when she hasn’t been in the room for a minute and a half. “I can’t reach the remote,” he admits quietly.
He works very hard not to think about how long he’s likely to be this way, how long it will take before he can turn off the television or lift a spoon to his own mouth without shaking from exertion.
Renee drops her bag on the floor and unloads the books on the table, finally grabbing the remote and clicking off the tv.
“Thank you,” he rasps.
The silence is blissful.
She sinks into the chair beside his bed and surprises the shit out of him by leaning forward and putting both hands on his arm. She stares at his sheet and doesn’t say anything for a long time. He’s glad; talking feels like pushing boulders uphill with a straw, although at the moment he can’t be sure that’s only due to the aftereffects of the biotoxin. When Renee finally looks at him, her eyes are glazed and shiny.
“I didn’t think-” she whispers. She moves one hand to rub impatiently at her eyes. “I’m really glad your daughter is as goddamn stubborn as you are.”
“So am I.” Silence blankets the room again, and Jack’s surprised by how comfortable it feels, how her presence removes the need to manufacture conversation. Now that Kim and fate have conspired to hand him his life back, he’s still not quite sure what to make of the gift.
Finally Renee reaches for the bag she tossed on the floor. “I went to the library and picked out all these books for you before I realized you probably can’t hold them long enough to read right now.”
He swallows hard, smacked again with gratitude for her complete lack of bullshit, her refusal to feel sorry for him.
She’s still digging in her bag. “But I figured that books on CD would work, so I got a bunch of those and brought you my portable CD player.”
She sits up again, hands full of CDs. “I don’t use the damn thing anyway. It’s four times the size of my ipod.”
“What’d you bring?”
“Probably a bunch of crap you won’t like. I have no idea what you read, so I grabbed a little bit of everything.”
“Has to be better than the ab exerciser ad.”
It doesn’t even earn him a smile. She sits, intently studying the cover art on the top CD. The pain rising off her is so thick he half expects it to be visible. No matter how many ways he tries to find a workaround in his head, there’s only one explanation for her attitude, and he can’t figure out a way not to ask her.
He clears his throat. “Tell me what happened with Wilson.”
Her eyes meet his then, and her expression almost makes him flinch. “I will,” she says, curling her hands into fists. “But not now. Could we take ten minutes to be glad you’re okay?”
He wants to press her. But she’s so pale and sad and lost that right now he’d do pretty much anything she asked. “Yeah. Why don’t you put in one of the CDs?”
She hesitates. “Have you read Philip Pullman?”
Jack shakes his head. “A review here and there. You like him?”
She looks almost embarrassed. “They’re theoretically kids’ books, so I don’t know if-”
“You like them?”
She slips the CD into the player and closes the lid, then leans forward to put the earphones in place for him. He pushes back hard against the wave of helplessness and frustration that rises up at his own inability to do something so simple. He’s going to have to get used to it.
He can smell the perfume on her neck. See her scar. Feel her breath on his forehead before she moves away.
She sits the player on his chest. “You can press stop if you hate it, right?”
“Yeah. But I won’t hate it.”
She stands abruptly. “I’ll let you get some rest. I’m sure Kim will be back soon.”
He’s a little blindsided by the ferocity with which he does not want her to leave. “She’s sleeping.” He swallows. It’s so fucking annoying, having to concentrate on every syllable. “Will you stay and listen with me for awhile?”
“There’s only one set of earphones.”
It hurts like hell, but he slowly reaches up to his left ear, taking the white plastic cord and holding it out to her in his unsteady hand.
She snatches it, her hand closing over his and lowering it to the bed. “Will you stop? I’m only staying if you let me help.”
“And if I do you’ll stay?”
She scoots her chair forward until it bumps against the bed frame. Leaning forward, she rests her chin on her arms and slips the earphone into her ear.
Jack closes his eyes and listens, relaxing into the sound of the reader’s voice and the feel of Renee’s arms pressing the mattress next to his.
He’s been in the hospital for six weeks now.
Each day he’s forced to stay and relearn the basics of human motion and cognition, Jack reminds her more of an over-caffeinated five-year-old on the verge of a spectacular meltdown. To her, his hospital room is now a second home that comes with the added bonus of being free from the negative associations floating through her apartment.
Honestly, she prefers it here, and she realizes that’s unbelievably weird.
She’s sitting cross-legged in an uncomfortable chair, sipping ice-cold lemonade, so engrossed in the silly Herman Wouk novel she brought him to read that she’s only peripherally aware of what he’s doing until she hears his sudden loud exclamation.
She glances up, putting the book aside. He’s standing in front of the sink, legs trembling, blood running down the side of his face.
She crosses the floor in three steps, reaching for some paper towels from the dispenser. He’s already dabbing at the cut, but it’s bad one and the blood is seeping through the white paper in his hand.
“Jack, move your hand. Let me see.” She’s barely touched his arm when he shoves her hand away.
“Christ. I can take care of my own fucking shaving cut.” His free hand is holding on to the sink though, and the shaking in his legs is getting worse. She’s about to say something about this when he mutters, “Not that you would know I can do anything for myself, since you’re always here.”
She backs away. His words feel like physical force.
Okay then. Message received.
The back of her neck feels the way her lemonade felt in her hand a few moments ago.
Ignoring the responses that swell up in her throat, she reaches for her bag and takes very long steps toward the door. She’s already halfway out when she hears him say, “Renee. Shit!”
She doesn’t stop.
Outside, she walks fast, with no clue where she’s going, grateful for the powerful breeze that dries the tears she can feel stinging her eyes. She’s had enough humiliation for this afternoon. His reaction was so violent and unexpected she feels as if someone has peeled off large portions of her skin.
When her phone rings she slaps it open and shut without looking at the display. She knows who it is, and he can take his apologies and go fuck himself. What the hell is she even doing here every day?
Finally she slows, watching two kids chasing each other around a jungle gym in the park just ahead of her. They’re laughing, the infectious kind.
Her head throbs.
She’s reaching into her bag for some Advil when the phone beeps with a text alert. Probably her niece with a shopping update.
She flips it open. Jack. The text reads, I’m sorry isn’t enough, but I am. Play Othello with me? I won’t speak.
She reads it three times before it occurs to her how long it must have taken him to key in those letters with the current level of his fine motor control.
There aren’t any mistakes.
She wishes she were less easy. She wishes she had some idea how to hate him.
When she appears in the doorway to his room, he’s back in his bed, a band-aid covering the cut on his neck, although there’s still quite a bit of blood.
“I was a complete ass. This place just-” He stops, rubbing his cheek. “No. There’s no excuse. I’m sorry.” When she still says nothing he adds, “Did you come back to play or to tell me to fuck myself?”
“Depends. Did you decide to pull your head out of your ass?”
“Well then prepare to get it kicked. You know you never win this game.”
She drops her bag on the floor and perches on the edge of his bed, careful not to touch him. She’s not ready for that.
They’ve been playing in silence for at least ten minutes when he says out of nowhere, “If it makes any difference, you’re one of two people on this earth I would have lost control like that with.”
She takes a long time to place her black disc before she finally looks at him. “Lucky me.”
She wants to stay mad, she really does. But when he grins and nudges her knee with his foot, the smile she’s been suppressing for five minutes wins.
It’s after midnight but she’s still there, her body draped sideways over the chair, legs swinging as she studies the cards in her hand. He’s such a pain in the ass that the entire hospital staff has a collective unspoken agreement to ignore visiting hours when it comes to her. It’s the only way they can stand him.
“What time is your flight?” she asks, dropping a card onto the pile stacked on the table between them.
“Ten-thirty.” He takes a card and stares at it, but it’s almost like trying to read an unfamiliar alphabet, Cyrillic or something. His mind is nowhere near the game.
“How’d you talk Kim out of coming to fly back with you?”
“It wasn’t easy. She’s so damn stubborn.“ He flexes his hand. “Dr. Macer found a nurse who was on her way back to LA anyway and got me on the same flight. Kim’s still mad, but I wasn’t going to let her make a round trip in one weekend when all I’m going to do is sit on my ass for five hours. It’s not that taxing.”
“I wish you’d let me drive you.”
“Traffic will be a bitch and I have no idea when I’ll get out of here with all the paperwork they probably have waiting.” He throws down a ten of clubs just to discard something. “It’s easier to call a cab when I’m done. Save you the trouble.”
He doesn’t add the part where despite his desperation to get the hell out of the hospital, after two months of seeing her for hours every day it’s going to be strange not having her around – playing cards, listening to books on CD, sneaking him cheeseburgers and mint-chocolate chip milkshakes, cracking up at late night infomercials.
To have her just. . . there.
He watches the way her fingers wind around a strand of red hair as she debates her next move.
Without warning, his left leg begins to shake, more violently than it has in weeks. It bangs into his elbow, knocking his cards in an arc across the sheet. “Goddammit.”
Renee sits up quickly, pushing the table aside. She puts both hands on his twitching thigh, controlling the movement of his leg. “Hey, try to relax. Dr. Macer said this could happen for months.”
“I know. But when it doesn’t for a while I start thinking-” He trails off, trying to breathe evenly. It’s idiotic to get upset over this.
Her fingers move against his seizing muscles, gently at first, then with a bit more force. “It will stop, okay? Just not today.”
“Okay.” He tries to exhale slowly. The trembling begins to dissipate at almost the exact instant Jack notices that her hands are on his bare skin and not over the thin fabric of his gown. The pain from the spasm slides slowly away, but she’s still rubbing her fingers over his skin in soft circles.
It feels good.
Really, really good. Too good. As in, he needs her to stop right now because biology is taking over and he’s wearing a fucking see-through hospital gown with blue diamonds all over it. The damn gown conceals nothing. He tries unobtrusively to bunch it up so at least there’s more than one layer. He can tell she has no clue; she’s not even looking at him.
He clears his throat, forcing himself to speak. “Renee. It’s fine, really. Thanks.”
She stops and glances up at him.
Shit. He doesn’t blush often – almost never in fact – but he can feel his face overheating more with each passing millisecond. He knows the exact moment she comprehends what’s going on in his head, and for the briefest slice of time he thinks he’d cut off his own legs and hand them to someone right now if he could have just stayed in the goddamn coma.
She moves her hands away quickly, though he can tell she slows it down so as not to be obvious. Inside his head, he repeats every profanity he knows and makes up a couple new phrases to throw in for variety.
“It’s late so-” She’s looking everywhere but at him, the way she did the first time she saw his scars. “I’ll let you get some sleep. Call me when you get to LA, okay?”
“I will.” He wants to say more, but nothing comes to him that wouldn’t make the situation exponentially worse.
“Good.” She backs up into the table and the cards fall to the floor, fanning out over the linoleum. “Sonofabitch.”
“Leave it,” he pleads. “I’ll grab them when I get ready for bed.”
She shakes her head, kneeling to collect them one by one. “No. I’m the one who threw them across the room.”
Fuck. The click of each card landing on the pile feels like ten minutes passing. The weight and force of the silence is so impressive Jack could swear he feels it pushing him into the mattress.
Finally she stands again and, very carefully this time, deposits the rescued cards on the table. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow then,” she says, more out of breath than card collection warrants. “Have a safe trip.” She’s out the door before his mind can form the words for a response.
He looks for a long time at the white diamond pattern criss-crossing the tiny window in the door, then at the chair that now appears almost foreign to him without her body in it.
Very smooth, Jack. God you’re an asshole.
Her entire apartment smells like Lysol.
She’s reorganized her closet, cleaned out the fridge, vacuumed under the couch and all the cushions, scrubbed the kitchen floor, and made two huge loaves of banana bread she knows she’ll never eat by herself.
She went to the gym for the first time in three months today. Tomorrow she’ll regret it and have to take a ton of Advil, but it killed another hour. She thinks about the phrase “time flies,” and how whoever made that up was very very stupid.
After two months of spending twelve to sixteen hours a day in the same hospital room, she should probably be a lot happier at the prospect of some free time, fresh air and sunshine, a drastic change in her routine. She realizes only now that taking care of Jack gave her an automatic free pass on dealing with her own issues. She never talked to him about Wilson, about the President’s under-the-table smothering of the fallout. She’s starting a contract job at DHS next Monday, and Jack doesn’t even know that. Between his physical therapy and the constant mental gymnastics she’s had to perform to prevent him from literally busting himself out of the hospital, it was always easier to keep the focus on him.
With his memory lapses, twitching muscles, and near constant state of meltdown over being partially incapacitated, she didn’t figure he needed to hear about her insomnia, her nightmares, the guilt so powerful she feels as if her brain has created a new room for the sole purpose of offering all that remorse someplace to live.
The phone rings when she’s putting cling wrap on the banana bread. Her heart accelerates when she sees his name on the LCD; she wonders if anybody ever truly grows up. She lets it ring three times, not because she’s trying to be cool but because her throat feels fluttery and she needs to take a deep breath.
Finally she screws up her courage. “Hey,” she says, relieved when she sounds more like herself than she anticipated.
“Hey. Sorry it took me so long to call. Luggage snafu.”
“No it’s fine. I assumed you wouldn’t call until later,” she lies. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He chuffs a little. “I’m really tired though. It’s pathetic.”
“You knew this was going to happen. Can you give yourself a break?” She grabs the cup of green tea she made right before he called and curls herself into the corner of her sofa, wrapping her arm around a stray pillow so she has something to squeeze. It’s vaguely comforting.
“I’m trying. But Renee, I had to sit down the moment I walked in the door. They’ve already gone out to get pizza to give me time to rest.” He pauses. “And Kim unpacked for me.”
She takes a swallow of the tea and scalds her throat. “Which I’m sure she wanted to do. You never quite get that, do you?” She knows he’s not going to answer her so she adds, “How are Kim and her family? You didn’t already kill her husband or something, did you?”
He laughs, and she can feel the knot in her back loosen ever so slightly. “No! He’s. . . nice. Very polite. He calls me ‘Sir.’”
“What about Teri?”
He’s silent for a second too long, and Renee feels the ache building in her chest. She’s spent enough time with him now to know that for the rest of his life, his granddaughter’s name will be a relentless source of cognitive dissonance, this perfect convergence of the past with all its baggage and the future that hopefully holds a lot less.
“She’s so beautiful, Renee. She babbles a mile a minute and I can’t understand any of it.” He breathes in and starts again. “Her eyes are so much like Teri’s.” His voice is rough, broken; Renee’s sucker-punched by how much she wishes she could touch him right now.
“You took your camera, right? I can’t wait for you to upload pictures.”
She can feel him smiling from 2700 miles away. “Yeah. I’ll break it out as soon as they get back with the pizza and drive everybody crazy.”
“Jack.” She has to do this now or she never will. “I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean-” Goddammit. She curses the rule dictating that words always work the least when you need them the most. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
He doesn’t say anything for at least thirty seconds, and all of her muscles begin to tense again. Then all of the sudden he says, “I thought I was making you uncomfortable.”
She wrinkles her forehead. What the hell?
“What are you talking about?”
“Renee.” Pause. “Shit. I don’t know how-” She can hear him breathing, fast. “I was really uncomfortable, but not for the reason you probably think.”
Hmm. “I didn’t mean to get in your personal space. I know you don’t like people touching you unnecessarily.” She knows she’s missing some subtext here, but hell if she can figure out what it is.
“And you say I’m hopeless at interpersonal communication.” He falls silent for another ten or fifteen seconds, but she forces herself to wait and let him continue. “The problem wasn’t that I didn’t like it. I liked it a lot.” Another pause. “Too much.”
“Oh.” Wow. She sets the tea on the end table and touches her free hand to her cheek, which is now burning.
In the background she hears voices, not the words themselves but Kim’s distinct pitch and a tiny little voice going nonstop.
“They’re back with the pizza so I have to go. Will you be up if I call you later?”
He hesitates, then blurts out faster than she realized he was capable of speaking, “On a scale of one to ten, how much do you never want to talk to me again now that I told you that?”
She has to clench her teeth to keep from laughing, and she knows it’s the wrong time to do that.
“Negative five. Go be with your family. I’ll talk to you later tonight.”
Smacking the phone shut before he can argue with her, she walks into the kitchen, dumps the remainder of her tea down the drain, and pours herself a large glass of ice water.
She drinks half of it in a few swallows before holding the frosted glass to her burning cheek.