Title: Fighting for Salvation (40)
Rating: R (language in this chapter)
Summary: The aftermath of the bomb, and some leads on Angel's identity.
Disclaimer: Believe me, if I owned 24, things would be MUCH different. I own nothing.
CTU was in chaos. When the bomb exploded, it killed their live feed, and a high-pitched whine had shot through their headsets, causing techs to cry out in pain as they ripped the offending technology away from their ears. The static on the monitors caused Tony's heart to race, fear clutching at his throat.
"What the hell happened!?" he barked.
"I'd say the bomb exploded," Chloe replied.
"I can see that, Chloe," he snapped. "Why the hell did we lose our feed?"
She shrugged. "It's not there anymore."
Tony's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"Our connection…it's just…gone. Like we're trying to get a feed from nothing."
Kim swallowed hard, focusing on keeping her hands on her keyboard so that they wouldn't shake.
"I don't think it blew up the courthouse," she said, a small tremble in her voice.
Tony shook his head. "No. It blew up our people instead." He turned to Adam and Chloe, pointing at them. "Get me one of those agents on the phone NOW! There has to be somebody down there who can tell us what the hell happened!"
Ava groaned as she opened her eyes. Every muscle in her body ached, and she felt like she'd been tackled by the world's largest sumo wrestler. The noise around her was muffled, and she slowly realized that the explosion must have affected her hearing. Looking around, she saw fire and debris everywhere – twisted metal that had been an ambulance just moments before lay to her left, the driver decapitated by a flying shard of…something.
As she pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, more sound reached her ears. It was still muffled, but it was stronger than before, and she could differentiate between the sirens and the screams.
Her mind raced back to the moments before the explosion, when everything had finally clicked into place. The bastard had never intended to blow up the courthouse – he had wanted everyone to congregate outside, so that his bomb would be right underneath them. And he had succeeded – bodies were strewn everywhere, limbs that were no longer connected littering the road.
"Curtis," she whispered, remembering that she had called to him just before the explosion.
Frantic, she got up and moved closer to the blast site, wincing as she put her full weight on her injured leg. Looking down, Ava saw that the bandage was completely soaked through, a piece of debris having reopened the wound. She shook her head and moved on – she didn't have time to deal with that right now.
She didn't know where to start – there were so many people calling for help, or crying out in pain, that for a moment she was lost. She knew that she couldn't help them all, and that many would die before they ever reached a hospital. But then one voice called out over the others, reaching her ears.
The agent looked up to see Michelle waving her arms. She looked relatively okay, although a long gash ran down her arm, the blood flowing freely. Ava ran over to her, grateful that at least one of her friends had survived the blast.
"I need your help," Michelle told her. "I can't lift it alone."
Ava didn't know what she was talking about until Michelle pointed to her right. The top of a police car rested on the ground beside them, the rest of the vehicle missing. Underneath it, though, Curtis was pinned.
"Oh, God," Ava breathed.
Curtis grimaced, his eyes finding hers. "I’m okay, really."
"I can see that."
He shook his head. "It's not crushing me. My foot is stuck. I can't move it at all."
Ava narrowed her eyes at him as she moved to one side of the roof. "Are you sure you're not just being all manly and stoic?"
Curtis chuckled, wincing. "Okay, it hurts a little."
"That's what I thought." She nodded to Michelle as the woman moved to the other side of the metal. "We're gonna lift on three, Curtis, okay?"
Ava counted it out, and she and Michelle strained as they tried to lift the metal off of their friend. It rose slightly, but it wasn't enough for him to disentangle his foot.
"Damn you and your big feet," she gritted as they continued to lift.
Suddenly the piece of debris became lighter, and they were able to lift it higher. Ava looked over to see a bloodied and bruised Jack standing beside her, adding his muscles to the effort. A few seconds more, and Curtis was free. He rolled out from under the metal, staring at his ankle critically.
Michelle immediately moved to his side, ripping part of his shirt and using it as a bandage. She wrapped the ankle tightly, trying to stem the bleeding.
"You a field nurse in another life?" Curtis joked.
Michelle rolled her eyes as she helped him up, supporting some of his weight. "You can't help us catch the guy if you bleed to death."
Ava turned to Jack. "You okay?"
He nodded. "Just a couple scratches."
"It looks like you swam through a sea of glass."
"Feels like it too." Jack looked around, his eyes hardening as he saw the carnage. "This is what he wanted all along, isn't it?"
Ava nodded, her jaw clenching. "And I want the bastard's head on a fucking stick."
Tony sighed as he walked down to Security. He had gotten a call only moments earlier that someone was at the front gate, demanding to see Ava. When the guard had told him the person's name, Tony hurried down to meet her.
"What's in the crate?" he asked as soon as he saw her.
Jen turned and glared at him. "The cats."
"Mine and Ava's."
"I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for why you've brought them here," he said, waving at the guard to give her a visitor's pass.
"There is," she insisted, taking the badge and hooking it to her jeans' pocket. "I got a weird phone call."
"What kind of call?"
Tony frowned. "And that's why you brought the cats?"
Jen sighed. "Look, I've been friends with Ava for too long to think that anything is a coincidence anymore. Someone blew up her house, after calling her, and ever since then, she's been here, probably knee-deep in another crisis." She stopped, turning to face him. "Tony, there was someone on the other end of the line. It's like they were waiting to see if I picked up. I couldn't just sit there."
He heard the fear in her voice, and knew that she had done the smart thing. Nodding, he led her out onto the main floor. "You can sit at Ava's desk."
"Where is she?" Jen asked as she set the crate down.
"There have been more bombs…one just went off in front of the courthouse."
"And she's there?"
Tony took a deep breath, and Jen could see the worry in his eyes. "She was on her way last we knew…we haven't heard from her since the explosion."
Jen reached out, placing a gentle hand on his arm. "I'm sure she's okay…"
His phone rang then, cutting her off. Staring down at the display, he breathed a sigh of relief. "Speak of the devil…" He opened the phone. "Are you alright?"
Ava chuckled. "Nice to hear your voice, too, Tony."
"You didn't answer my question."
"I'm fine. A couple cuts and bruises. I was outside the blast zone."
"We've had some calls from other survivors," he told her.
"It's bad, Tony. We've got a lot of dead bodies down here. And we can't get to them until we deal with all the injured."
He took a deep breath. "Have you found any of the others?"
Ava moved further away from the center of things, the noise from sirens making it difficult for her to hear.
"Yeah. Jack and Michelle are okay. Curtis got pinned under the roof of a car, but the medic said his ankle is going to be fine – though it'll hurt like a bitch for a few days." She stopped by the storefront window, kicking at some of the debris on the sidewalk. "Angel planned this, Tony."
"Has Chloe found anything yet?"
"No. But Jen is here."
Ava's head snapped up. "What? Is she okay?"
"Don't worry, she's fine. She got a hang-up call at her place and got spooked. She brought the cats."
"She managed to catch Nightmare? Is she bleeding?"
"There's a slice down her arm. But she'll live." Tony paused. "Do you really think he'd go after her?"
"I do," she said quietly. Her eyes drifted around her surroundings, stopping as she looked through the window next to her. Tilting her head, she stared at the object on the other side for a moment, not quite believing it. "That fucking bastard," she whispered.
"Ava? What's going on?"
Holding the phone with her right hand, Ava slammed her elbow into the glass. The explosion had caused it to spider, cracks snaking throughout – when her elbow made contact, it shattered. Reaching in, she pulled out a box.
"Was that glass shattering?"
"Yeah. I found the next clue."
Ava sighed. "The sick fuck left it in the store. I bet if we went back to that puzzle, we would have been able to see it through the window."
"Bring it back, Ava," Tony said quietly. "Let's get ahead of the next one."
Jen watched Chloe for a few minutes, unsure of what to do. She knew that the analyst was sifting through Ava's life, looking for someone who could fit the description of Angel, and she desperately wanted to know how that was going. On the other hand, Chloe would probably bite her head off for interrupting.
"You can stop staring, you know," Chloe said, her eyes never leaving the computer.
Jen rolled her eyes, walking over to the other woman's station. "How's the search going?"
"There has to be something."
Chloe looked up at her. "You've known her for years…longer than any of us. Is there any place you can suggest I start looking?"
Jen sat down and shrugged. "She lived a pretty normal life before she started working here. Divorced parents, shit-for-brains father who should be bound and gagged and never allowed to speak in public…she's rich. Like, really rich."
"Maybe someone wants her money?"
"There are easier ways to get that, though," Jen argued. "They would just have to take someone she cares about…me, Tony, Jack…the money means nothing to her. She'd give it up in a heartbeat."
Chloe frowned. "You said her father isn't so great?"
"Understatement of the year. He's a jackass. He never thought Ava was good enough. But he isn't Angel. He's not smart enough to put something like this together. Or rich enough – her money came from her mom."
Chloe nodded, turning back to her computer and typing. "But he might be a good place to start."
They sat in silence for a few minutes as Chloe sifted through all the information coming through the system. Finally, the analyst stopped, frowning at what she read.
"How many kids did you say he had?"
"Just Ava. Her older brother is from her mom's first marriage."
"There were monthly payments leaving his account for eighteen years, around the same time Ava was growing up. They look a lot like child support."
"Well, yeah. He had to pay her mom –"
Chloe shook her head. "He only paid her for sixteen years – then the accident happened and he had to pay her grandparents instead. These went some place different – to some woman in Connecticut." She typed some more, watching the pages scroll across her screen intently. "Oh shit," she finally whispered.
"What? What is it?" Jen asked, straining to read the information.
Chloe turned to face her. "Ava isn't his only child – she has another brother."