title: a jolly christmas rating: R for language characters: jack bauer, renee walker spoiler(s): we'll say through the series, just to err on the side of caution. warning(s): references to clinical depression, but otherwise? honestly, none. summary: fucking christmas. word count: 1,185 disclaimer: the characters aren't mine; the words are. a/n: holiday gift-fic written for adrenalin211, who requested jack and renee. prompt: Frank Sinatra album, "let your heart be light." title borrowed from the sinatra album of the same name, which includes his version of "have yourself a merry little christmas." a/n 2.0: set at some nebulous point post-day seven. au as all get-out, it goes without saying. also, I would be remiss if I didn't give props where props are due — a hell of a lot of inspiration for this fic came from leigh57 and her fantasticyes the heart should always go one step too far. a/n 3.0: apologies to those of you who've already seen this over on my journal; I used to be so much better at remembering to cross-post!
She doesn't know why she thought she could handle the mall.
Especially Georgetown Park.
She's still shaky inside her skin, surrounded by the press of invisible human walls and too many disembodied voices, as she exits the parking garage.
The carrier bag in the passenger seat is a hollow victory, but it's there, goddammit, stuffed with tissue paper and its exterior shining with an understated elegance that can only mean designer and way too expensive. Its presence means she bought the fucking gloves — a gift she thought, stupidly, might make her feel more normal. Instead, it only reminds her that she can't even see the Bell curve from her current vantage point.
And Jack doesn't even need gloves. She had a thought a few days ago — the thought that he might like them; she knows how the cold plays hell with his joints, and his right hand, in particular.
He won't hate them, at least not outright. The leather's fantastic quality, lined with hand-sewn fur. She knows he'll say he loves them, because they're from her.
It'll probably be obligation.
And what if Jack is a secret PETA sympathizer?
She spares a sideways glare at the bag, just sitting there, like it has nothing to do with her foul mood.
Fucking rabbit fur.
- - - - -
By the time she reaches the apartment, she's exhausted.
Something as simple as driving to the mall and back has left her grinding her teeth in frustration; she's just tired of feeling like this, and she can't even define what this is, these days.
Her therapist would have an entire list of attributes, she's sure. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and seasonal affective disorder would certainly be among them.
Maybe psychosis, too.
She's not sure if giving into any or all of those labels would make her feel better, or worse, so she gets out of the damn vehicle, bag in tow.
The tissue paper rustles with every step; that, too, grates on her ears, like the whine of worn brakes.
She's a regular ray of shit-splattered sunshine.
Her fingers tighten on the silky, corded handles of the bag as she opts for the stairs instead of the elevator.
She's had enough imagined claustrophobia, today. No reason to make it feel more real.
- - - - -
Eight floors later, she's slightly winded when she enters the apartment.
The unmistakable smell of Jack's special minestrone fills her nose, and she can hear the faint but similarly unmistakable sound of Frank Sinatra's voice wafting into the foyer, a low, soothing background blanket after so much too much.
"Just me," she calls, shedding her peacoat and shoving the offending gift bag into the hall closet.
Jack appears a moment later, wooden spoon in hand.
"Hey," he says, and as dumb and Harlequin as it may be, she feels tension bleed from her spine and shoulder blades.
"Hi," she says, stepping closer, and brushes his stubbled cheek with a light kiss.
He's watching her, and she fights the urge to look away; she's not a butterfly splayed and pinned beneath a magnifying glass, she reminds herself, because this is Jack, and this is a simple conversation — a normal conversation — that regular people have every single day.
So she smiles, briefly, even as she knows he's not buying what she's half-heartedly selling.
"Not bad. Errands are all done. Traffic was a nightmare coming back."
"Yeah," he says, one corner of his mouth turning upward. "'Tis the season."
"Don't remind me," she says, and while she's only cracking wise, it's several degrees sharper than she intends.
She sees Jack pause, the tiniest flash of a tell visible in his eyes, before he forces a chuckle.
"No kidding. I still haven't picked up that book Kim wanted me to get for Teri."
"You should just order it online," she says. "Saves you from fighting the hordes out there."
"I guess I could."
Jack moves closer, and she lets him; she doesn't flinch or discourage the contact when his hand curves around her side, right below her ribs.
"Come try this," he says, gesturing toward the kitchen with the spoon in his other hand. "I can't decide what it needs."
"Probably nothing," she says, and tips her head so he can see her half-smile as she speaks. "You're just a perfectionist."
"Well, I guess there is that."
He guides her toward the stove, and Frank's voice is louder now, drifting from the stereo across the room.
Jack hums along, and she thinks it must be unconscious; the accompanying rumble is so low, she feels more than hears it in his chest and against her side.
She lifts a steaming spoonful of soup to her mouth, and as she predicted, it's delicious.
"Hmm," she says, pretending to mull over this nonexistent dilemma. "Paprika? Or maybe some maple syrup?"
Jack quirks an eyebrow.
"Oh, you think?"
"Or maybe chocolate syrup," she says, and actually finds herself breathing a laugh when he moves toward the fridge. "And peanut butter."
He pulls out butter, instead, for the loaf of bakery bread waiting on the wooden cutting board.
Renee closes her eyes, and breathes in deep. Maybe she's centering herself, like her therapist recommends; maybe she's making a definitive choice to live in this moment, and no other, with soup and Jack and warm bread and the Chairman of the Board.
"He changed the words."
Her eyes open. Jack's close — closer than she expects, and it would be an intrusion with anyone else.
"He changed the words," Jack repeats, and nods toward the speakers.
"To the song?" A crease appears between her brows. "You sure?"
"That line used to be 'until then, we'll have to muddle through, somehow.' Sinatra thought that was too depressing."
Another laugh bubbles from Renee's throat, quiet but barbed.
"Because the holidays aren't depressing at all on their own," she says, before she can think to censor herself.
Jack doesn't glance over, but there's a concentrated focus to his bread-buttering that shows her he's more concerned than she may have ever realized.
She clears her throat.
"'Bough' rhymes okay," she says, and steps closer. "You think?"
"Yeah." He nods, once, and slices into the butter again. "It's not terrible, as substitutions go."
Renee wraps her arms around him, fitting her torso along his back, and presses a kiss to his shoulder.
Jack sways by small fractions with the music, lulling her, and she closes her eyes.
"Hey," she says, all but whispering. "Tomorrow, why don't we go look for that book for Teri?"
She feels him tense in what's probably surprise. When he turns, his eyes lock on her face.
She smiles, and pulls him closer, butter knife and bread forgotten for the moment.