leigh57 (leigh57) wrote in 24_fanfic,
leigh57
leigh57
24_fanfic

Water's Edge

Title: "Water's Edge"
Author: leigh57
Characters: Jack, Renee, Vladimir in flashback
Word count: Around 3000. Depends on whether you ask Word or gdocs.
Summary: 8x07 AU that assumes Jack took Renee home when she agreed to go.
Warnings: Language, violence. Spoilers through 8x07. Also, AND THIS PART IS REALLY IMPORTANT, this is so not my usual fic. This story contains graphic, vivid memories of rape, without any sugarcoating at all. If that is not your tea, please do not click the cut. I cannot emphasize this strenuously enough.
Disclaimer: They’re so not mine. If they were, we all know this wouldn’t be happening to Renee.
A/N: Under the cut.



A/N: Well, bringing up lowriseflare’s baseball metaphor with this subject matter seems a little odd, but it still kind of covers what I’m doing – just trying to stay in the game when the damn rules keep changing. My apologies in advance if the quality of the writing isn’t up to par. This is another one of those situations where the writers have screwed with Renee so much that if I don’t give the new version a try soon, I never will. One more time, there are no hearts and flowers here, or precious few. If that’s what you’re expecting, you’re in the wrong place. In addition, this fic does not suggest that I believe this is the Renee we’ll be seeing for the remainder of the season. It’s the Renee we saw in the last ep, IMHO. Thanks to cybertoothtiger for reading this so quickly at the last minute and for keeping me from making one of the most inappropriate vocabulary screw-ups ever in fic. Huge thanks as always to my wingwomen, lowriseflare and adrenalin211. I owe you both for so much more than amazing beta work. Really.

Fic title is from Cyndi Lauper's song.

***********************************************************


She didn’t speak during the twenty-seven minute drive to her apartment.

Jack tried to watch her without watching her. Once, she swiped her hand over her cheek, but he couldn’t tell if she was crying or just pushing her hair away from her face. She certainly wasn’t making any noise.

The debrief had been smoother than he expected. She’d scared him a couple times, pausing too long when Hastings asked her a question, but she’d remained calm and in control. Hastings didn’t know her well enough to recognize the lag time in her responses or the occasional cracks in her voice.

When Hastings asked him to leave the room, Jack took half a step forward and said, “No. I’m staying.”

It was the only time Renee had looked at him.

Now, her eyes appeared to be fixed in the general direction of the road ahead of them. He didn’t want to think about what she was actually seeing.

_________________________

Jack watched Renee’s battered fingers twist the deadbolt and worked to sort the colliding impulses inside his head without allowing his facial expression to change.

He couldn’t leave; that much he knew. He wanted nothing more than to make her comfortable, but maybe her version of ‘comfortable’ right now was being alone. His heart smacked rapidly, and he could feel a shiver rising along the back of his neck, tiny beads of sweat.

She opened the door and held it, silently waiting for him to walk past her. He paused in the entryway, his eyes slowly scanning the room. The place was clean, almost antiseptic, and he couldn’t help but acknowledge that she’d surprised him, again. He’d predicted chaos. As it was, he couldn’t find a glass or a magazine out of place.

There wasn’t even dust on her coffee table.

Renee shut the door and threw her bag on the floor. She stared into space for a few seconds before finally turning her eyes to meet his. Her expression made him want to wrap his fingers around something, anything to insulate him from its full impact. But he kept his gaze steady and waited for her to speak.

“Can you-” Her voice cracked again. “Stay for a while?”

He locked his knees and held his breath for a second, assimilating the relief. “Yeah. For as long as you want.”

She gave a hardly perceptible nod. “I’m gonna take a shower.”

“Yeah.”

He watched her walk down the hall, exhaustion encasing each step.

Renee shut the bathroom door but didn’t lock it. All he could hear was the sound of the lock at Laitanan’s warehouse, the tiny click that meant everything, over and over again until he would have put his hands over his ears if it weren’t already futile.

He heard the slight squeak of the faucet, the water rushing.

The sound was almost soothing.

Almost.

From the second he’d run into the room to find Renee screaming with the knife in her hand, he’d had tunnel vision, one goal. Getting her home. Away from the warehouse, away from CTU, away from the questions and the eyes and the vicious whispers behind her back.

But that was all for her. For his part, he’d been dreading the lull, because he knew what it meant. Now that everything was quiet, now that he was alone with her and the specters in this unnaturally clean apartment, he had time to think. All the helpless fury he’d been compartmentalizing, pushing aside for the mission so that he could watch her and stay sane, snaked through his body like a physical force.

He closed his eyes, but that only made it worse, more vivid on his mental projection screen. Her face when he’d walked into the warehouse, her jaw set with such determination he’d known right then exactly how bad it was. The quiver in her voice when she pleaded, We’re almost there. It’ll be worth it. Her eyes as Laitanan put his arms around her, touching her hands to ‘help’ with the bread.

And he had done nothing.

He’d stood there, tossed back a drink, comforted himself slightly by cutting the dickhead off mid-sentence. And sure, there were a thousand reasons, explanations, justifications, excuses – all presently irrelevant to him.

He’d done nothing.

That wasn’t even the best part. The best part was that whatever self-flagellation he was engaged in was only his half-assed attempt at diversion, anything to prevent him from thinking about the images that must be going through her mind right now.

It wasn’t working.

He couldn’t sit, so he paced, creating a path between the door and the hallway, observing the way his shoes pushed the freshly-vacuumed carpet one way and then the other. Hands open and shut. Rhythmic repetitive motion, his only recourse if he wanted to keep the rage under control.

_________________________

The fourth time she lathered her skin, she smelled the soap and not Vladimir.

Blood welled up in tiny red circles from a patch on her upper left arm. She’d spent ten minutes scrubbing it with the loofa (his fingers had tightened and lingered there when he came). She rinsed the area, repeatedly, but the miniscule red bubbles stubbornly reappeared.

The blood that had dried and caked under her fingernails was stubborn, but she held each one in turn under the scalding shower spray until gradually, the dark maroon residue dissolved.

She thought about all the things soap couldn’t reach.

The smell of Vladimir’s skin, the suffocating pressure of his body on top of hers, the way she’d tightened the muscles in her stomach so she wouldn’t gag when his tongue pushed inside her mouth, his grunts of satisfaction even the screams inside her head couldn’t silence.

She’d closed her eyes, but there was nowhere to go.

Now, while the soapy water slid over her hair and down her arms and back, stinging the multiple cuts and scrapes on her skin, she pictured Jack, pacing through her living room, door to hallway and back again, opening and shutting his hands.

Finally she forced herself to reach up and turn off the water. She opened the curtain and reached for the navy towel, grateful she’d unintentionally grabbed that color because she wouldn’t have to see the blood when she dabbed it on her arm.

Suddenly, a wave of nausea caught her and she dropped to her knees in front of the toilet, throwing open the lid. She gagged violently, but nothing happened. She knelt there for a few more minutes, inhaling as deeply as she could.

Still shaking, she stood up and reached for the terrycloth robe hanging from the hook on the door. Also dark blue, so Jack wouldn’t see the blood even if it did seep through.

She wrapped it around herself, tightening the sash until it hurt, and walked out.

_________________________

She stayed in the shower for an hour and seven minutes. He clocked it. When she opened the door she stood there for a solid twenty seconds, fiddling with the sleeve of her robe before she said, “Sorry that took so long. I’m gonna get dressed. Do you-” She glanced toward the kitchen, as if trying to remember what people said in these situations. “Need anything?”

Aside from a gigantic fucking eraser to wipe out the past eight hours? “No, thanks. Take your time.”

She vanished down the hallway, closing the bedroom door behind her.

He figured the pacing would only upset her more, so he pushed off his shoes and made himself sit on the couch. A minute later Renee reappeared, wearing pajama pants and a baggy grey sweatshirt that made her look even paler, if that were possible. The bruise on her cheek was raised red and purple, her eyes bloodshot and exhausted.

She walked to the other end of the couch and stopped, retracting her hands into the sleeves of the hoodie. “Do you want something to eat?”

“Renee. Just stop. Please.”

“Stop what?”

He dug his toes into the carpet and said evenly, “Do you want something to eat?”

“No.” She stared at the coffee table. “I almost threw up in there. I should probably-” She swallowed. “Wait.”

“I’ll eat when you eat.” Jack pushed his palms into the knees of his jeans. “Will you at least sit down?”

She sank into the couch and drew her knees into her chest, arms wrapped around them, holding on tight as if . . . god he didn’t know.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” she whispered.

“You don’t have to say anything.” Goddammit. Why the hell couldn’t she see that right now this was all he wanted? To sit here on her couch and know that at least for the moment, he could stop it from getting worse.

“I stabbed you, Jack.”

“I told you, it doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me!” Inflection this time, the phosphorescent flare of hysteria that was obviously still there, stirring under the surface.

“Not to me,” he repeated, firm and quiet. “And I’m fine.” When she didn’t respond for a second he said, “Will you do something for me?”

“Yes.” Her rapid response caught him off guard.

“Let me make you something to drink. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate. I don’t care. I don’t know what you have.” He paused, trying to gauge how far he could push her. “You didn’t drink any of the water Hastings gave you in the debrief.”

“He can take his water and fuck himself.”

The flash that lit her eyes was gone so quickly he might have imagined it, but he still found it hard to breathe for a second. “Yeah. He can.” Jack felt the edge of his mouth twitch. “But I’d still feel better if you’d drink something.”

She sighed. “Hot chocolate might stay down.”

“Okay.” He walked into the kitchen. “Where are your mugs?”

_________________________

Half an hour later, Renee was entertaining herself by drawing swirls and curlicues in the chocolate sludge at the bottom of her cup. She listened to the clink of Jack’s spoon against his mug. She’d run through a minimum of fifty different ways to start a conversation with him, but she had yet to say a word. He didn’t appear to be bothered by this. He just sat at the opposite end of her couch, stirring his cocoa and occasionally taking a sip.

God she was tired.

Her cheek throbbed where Vladimir had punched her. Her skin prickled where she’d scrubbed it until she bled. She saw herself that afternoon, all leather-jacketed swagger and conviction, intent on proving to everyone (but especially to Jack) that she was more than ready to handle this mission.

What a fucking joke.

She put her mug on the floor.

Finally she blurted, “I thought it would feel different.”

Jack set his mug on the coffee table and leaned back into the couch, looking directly at her. “Killing Vladimir?”

Her eyes stung. No bullshit. He didn’t even try to pretend not to know exactly what she meant. “Yeah.”

“I know.” He stopped, looking past her for a second before he refocused. “You think it’s going to fix something, make it better, but-”

“It doesn’t.” She released her legs, stretching them toward him. “It’s really. . . strange,” she continued, working to keep her exhausted voice above a whisper. “For six years I hated him, hated the fact that he was the only one we didn’t get. I always had this image of what it would be like. How. . . satisfying it would feel to know he was finally dead.” She paused before her next sentence, but figured at this point what the hell did it matter? It wasn’t as if she could make Jack think less of her. “Especially if I got to do it.”

“I know,” he repeated. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Her throat was closing again. “Well I know that now.”

Like twisted magic, she was back in that room, staring at Jack with a knife in his side, trying to claw her way back into reality and wrap her mind around what the hell she’d just done. She could hear the muffled thud of his body hitting the ground.

For the second time that day, she tried to keep breathing, to confront her unvarnished panic at the possibility that she might have killed the only person left on the planet who meant anything to her.

The only person on the planet to whom she meant anything.

She didn’t understand how the tears could take control that quickly, but she was already breathing in erratic gasps, trying to get the words out even though her voice faded unpredictably. “But I could have killed you. And then what-. God!” She pulled her knees back up and buried her face, thinking that right now it would be perfect if the world really were capable of offering up a chasm to swallow her whole.

She was still trembling, head on her knees, when she felt the warmth of his arms around her back, heard the softness of his voice against her hair. “Hey. Shh. You didn’t. It’s okay.”

After a minute she let her legs slide down and lifted her face to rest her forehead on his shoulder. She stopped fighting the tears and let herself be sucked under, relaxing into the circle of Jack’s arms.

Jack was talking to her, murmuring something, but the mental fog admitted only vibration and tone, not meaning. As the white-hot explosions of pain strafed her, again and again, she almost longed for the numb emptiness to return.

But there was Jack’s voice.

Gradually, the edges of his words sharpened until they morphed back from sound into language. Reality eased into focus. The shoulder of Jack’s shirt (the clean one he’d picked up at CTU) was soaked. She considered how many clothes she could ruin for him tonight.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered again, because even though that seemed the wrong thing to say, nothing else seemed right either.

“I wish you’d stop saying that.” His palm was still moving over her upper back in a small oval.

It had been so long since she just let go. Before Jack had walked into CTU, nobody had touched her for months, and she’d liked it that way. A lot. Then suddenly she was back with Vladimir, caught in a horrific vortex where six years ago and the present moment merged.

Now Jack was touching her, his face rough and damp against her cheek, his hands moving gently, carefully over her back, fingers warm even through the fabric of her hoodie. Some psychology book somewhere probably insisted she should be recoiling given the circumstances, but all she felt was . . . relief. Safety. Comfort.

She’d almost forgotten the sensation of being held by someone who gave a shit.

She finally sat up, bracing herself with his forearms. Her eyes hurt so badly it took fierce concentration to keep them open. “I’m so tired,” she murmured.

“I know. Do you want anything before you go to bed?”

“No.” She paused, terror surging through her, but she forced herself to speak. He didn’t owe her. “Jack.”

“Yeah.” He sounded almost as thrashed as she was.

“Do you-” She bit into her lip, focused on steadying her voice. “Need to leave? I know Kim was expecting you, before. . .”

“I’m not leaving until you kick me out.”

“Guess you’ll be here for a while then,” she mumbled, her eyes slipping shut. She felt his hand close over the arch of her foot.

“Good.” After a beat, he said gently, “Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in bed?”

She forced her eyes open and looked at him. “Not tonight. I don’t-” She swallowed, still trying to hold his gaze. “I feel better here right now.” With you, she thought, but she didn’t include that part. Then it occurred to her that maybe he was uncomfortable, so she added quietly, “If you want to sleep in my bed, the sheets are clean.”

“No. I’m good right here.”

“Okay.” She scooted down, extending one of her feet until it landed on his leg. Hazily, she felt him dropping a light blanket over her, probably the one that usually lived on the back of the couch.

The exhaustion was so powerful now that she felt literally pushed into the cushions. She gave in not because she wanted to, but because she had no fight left. Her last fully-formed thought was that maybe with Jack there, the nightmares wouldn’t be so bad.

_________________________

When he knew for certain that she was deeply asleep, Jack allowed the muscles in his neck, shoulders, and back to relax. He watched her face (paper-white except for her injuries), clenching his free hand as he discovered new cuts and abrasions. She had an almost perfect handprint on her neck. He wondered how he’d managed not to notice that before.

He kept his hand on her ankle, warm skin and solid bone, as if somehow that could physically anchor her, prevent her from vanishing again.

He knew it was bullshit, but he didn’t move his hand.

Try to make choices that you can live with.

At the moment, he wasn’t sure he even knew what that meant. What he did know was that he’d spent his entire life trying to live by those words. So had she. The fact that they’d both miscalculated spectacularly at various points didn’t change that.

He stretched his legs until his heels rested on the smooth mahogany surface of her coffee table. He leaned his head back, reclining into her couch and adjusting his body as comfortably as possible into the shape of the only choice he could live with.

He’d sit here with her foot on his thigh and his hand on her ankle, listening to her breathe, waiting for her to wake up and tell him what to do next.

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