Characters: Jack, Renee, Kim, Teri, Stephen
Word count: 3867 exactly. Should have been 3800, but I’m a rebel.
Summary: Post 8x17 AU in which Renee did get shot but did not die. The story is chronological, but because of the drabble format there are often large narrative gaps between sections. Most of the drabbles are responses to prompts I received in this post. Some of them I made up because I felt like it. Yep.
Warnings: Language, sex, descriptions of torture, possible rape triggers. Spoilers for everything through 8x17. If you’re turned off by Jack and Renee being happy, don’t read this. It’s not all smush, but there’s plenty mixed in with the angst.
Disclaimer: They’re so not mine, for which I now routinely curse fate.
A/N: Longest ever (don’t say I didn’t warn you), and under the cut.
A/N: Apparently, Renee was unfond of life in the fridge, so she blasted her way out and is now very much alive in my brain. The phrase ‘thank you’ feels inadequate to express my appreciation for all the comments you guys made on ’Free to Fall’ and ’Still’. All that encouragement is a huge part of the reason I decided to brave writing AU. Also, I still miss Renee like a mofo. I need to create a happy place in my brain where my once awesome fictional world sucks less. In any case, thank you for the support and the amazing feedback.
I have no words excellent enough to thank my beta triumvirate of fabulous -- dealan311, lowriseflare, and adrenalin211. No clue how you guys put up with me.
Because I’m an insane music lover, I feel compelled to mention that I mainlined Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Story’ while writing this fic. Link to the video here. My next project once I finish the alphabet meme is a Jack/Renee vid to this song. Bring on the smush:)
Fic title stolen from Brandi Carlile’s indescribably fantastic cover of Jane Siberry’s “Calling All Angels.”
The night Renee’s released from the hospital, neither of them sleep.
Stubborn, she refuses the Percocet. (I’m tired of feeling like I’m underwater.)
She curls into a corner of his bed, the pain so bad he can hear her breathing in hitches. Tears slide off her cheeks, create tiny expanding circles on his pillowcase.
The blinds are drawn, door bolted, but he starts at every sound – car horn, slamming door, hushed voices in the hall.
Her voice drifts through the dusk. “I’ll take the damn pill if you’ll get in bed with me.”
He’d do anything.
She wakes up on his couch, blinking blurry objects into focus.
Jack’s reclined in a chair, reading.
She’s been here for a week. She’s only seen him horizontal when he edges into bed, tense, holding his body away, scared of hurting her in his sleep.
She tries not to move. He glances up, unfailing sixth sense.
“Hey.” He sets the book aside. “You need anything?”
The warm liquid of his voice has become her tranquilizer of choice.
“I need you to sit there and keep reading.”
He watches her eyes for a full minute before he reaches for his book.
The five-hour drive to the Adirondacks is excruciating.
Renee tries not to fidget. She knows Jack’s watching. No matter how she maneuvers, her chest and abdomen burn. She’s sweaty and nauseous within an hour.
Jack hasn’t spoken ten words since they left his apartment.
Even driving, he vibrates, somehow looking everywhere at once.
“Where do you know this guy from?”
“Marines. He bought the cabin as a summer home when he retired.”
He glances at her; she tries to breathe normally.
“It has state-of-the-art security,” he adds.
“I’m not worried.”
Jack’s silent. What he doesn’t say reverberates.
She won’t let him help her up the steps to the cabin.
He watches her sink into the sofa, pale and shaky. “Don’t move. I’ll unload the car.”
She attempts a smile. “I’m not moving. Relax.”
Afternoon sunlight assaults the room. He wants to close every curtain.
He distracts himself by unpacking peanut butter, golden Oreos, wheat bread.
“You still think you shouldn’t be here with me.”
“You’d be safer.”
“I don’t care.” Her eyes are glassy. “So just . . . stop.”
He grabs the Oreos and walks to the couch, succumbing to a smile when she takes five.
They watch the sudden thunderstorm over the lake from the couch on the screened-in porch.
Her head rests warm in his lap.
“What’d you think the day you met me?” It’s strange, having time, and she’s curious.
“Your ass looked hot in those pants.” His thumb etches soothing circles on her temple.
“I thought you were good at your job. . . “
“Too by-the-book for me to work with.”
She thinks about Vossler’s wife, about Wilson and Vladimir.
An explosion of lightning makes everything transiently white.
She tightens her fingers on his. Thunder rattles the windows.
They’ve been making out on the couch for . . . too long. His t-shirt and her tank top have vanished. He strokes her breast through the satin of her bra. The back of his hand brushes her nipple; she makes that noise that jostles his logic.
She arches into his fingers, then pulls away, hugging her ribs. “Shit. That hurts.” Pale, she sucks in air.
“Renee. We gotta stop.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I hate this.” Her voice quivers.
“So do I.” He inhales, deep and slow, willing his body to unwind. “But you’re here.”
He jolts awake in the pre-dawn twilight.
This time she drowned, choking, gagging on water until there was only silence.
The dreams pretend to be creative, but the ending doesn’t change.
He can’t save her.
His heart hammers; sweat coats his neck. He rests his hand on her shoulder. His arm lifts when she inhales. She rolls into him, warmth of her mouth against his chest.
“I’m here,” she whispers. “Go back to sleep.”
“Okay.” He kisses her forehead.
His eyes close. He stays awake to savor the way her body shapes itself to his as she slides back under.
A minute into their cautious attempt at actual sex, a soft ‘ohhh’ slips from her throat.
He stops. “What’s wrong?”
“Sorry.” She flushes. “I’ll try to be quiet.” She can’t stay still.
“No, don’t.” He smoothes his palm up her thigh. “I need to know . . . you’re okay.” He rocks into her, gentle and rhythmic.
“Yeah.” She exhales into his mouth. “Like that.” The raw want in her voice toys with his control.
Their first time exists for him in isolated snapshots, broken by what came after.
He wants to remember this in moving pictures.
After six weeks of frustration, sleeping curled around a man she wants like she hasn’t wanted anything maybe ever, Renee assumed the best part of sex would be coming with him all over her, inhaling aftershave and sweat.
Now, while her heart slams and her body contracts with lingering pleasure, she thinks the part after might win.
Jack breathes fast and harsh into her neck. “You okay?”
She wants to say perfect. She goes with, “Let’s do it again.”
“I was so scared,” he whispers.
“I know.” He’s still inside her.
It’s not close enough.
The plane to L.A. is noisy, hot, and overcrowded.
Renee sits wedged between Jack and the window, studying the arrows on the upside-down evacuation diagram stuffed into the seat pouch in front of her.
She doesn’t belong in coach.
She pictures herself hidden below, mixed with the monotonous grey, navy, and black suitcases.
“You okay?” Jack touches her arm.
“Yeah. I’m ready to be back on the ground.”
“Half an hour. Relax.” His fingers are strong, comforting.
A toddler careens down the aisle, laughing as he evades his father’s pursuit.
She looks at Jack and nods. “I’m trying.”
Tentative, Renee lingers near the primary-colored classroom door. Inside, Jack tilts his head as he listens to the soprano bounce of Teri’s voice.
“It’s not scary enough.” Teri pauses. “It needs bigger teeth.”
“Only a little.” Jack picks up the black crayon. “Your mom will hurt me if you have nightmares.”
Teri giggles, echoes from another universe. “Your monsters aren’t that scary!”
Not the ones he draws for you, Renee thinks.
Jack notices her. The joy in his face hurts like thawing.
He pulls out the miniature chair next to him and extends an electric green Crayola. “Let Renee try.”
“How many carseats do they have?” Jack swipes at the sweat on his forehead, smudging dirt.
“Kim said the black one.”
He moves a box. The top catches the edge of the shelving, flips off. Faded photographs glint in the dusty light.
Teri, smiling, holding a chocolate-covered Kim.
“What did you-” Renee halts. “Oh.”
He coughs. “Can you grab that lid?”
“Don’t you want to see them?”
He forces himself to look at her. “I thought it would make you uncomfortable.”
“It doesn’t.” She pulls out a photo of Teri holding a gigantic balloon toy. “Tell me about this one.”
“If the fucking bartender looks at your chest again, I’m gonna break his elbow.”
“Ignore him.” She grins, flirty.
He can’t stop watching her – cheeks flushed, eyes lit with laughter and too much tequila.
“Favorite poet?” she asks.
“Yeats. Favorite movie?”
“The English Patient. Don’t say anything. Favorite song?”
“’Comfortably Numb.’ Favorite restaurant?”
“Why’d you bring me here tonight?”
He pauses, surprised. “I used to come here, after Teri died.”
She draws back.
“No, listen. I wanted . . . different memories.”
She studies his eyes. The pounding music beats in the bones of his skull.
She flips her phone shut with clammy hands and pulls open the balcony door.
Jack stands by the railing, hair and shirt dripping in the unexpected downpour.
“When do you start?” He doesn’t look at her.
“I told them I’d call on Monday.” She thinks about the word ‘barrier.’ How she hates it.
“You want to go back.” His expressionless voice cuts more than screaming.
“I’m gonna take a walk.” He brushes past her, shoes squishing.
She wants to follow him.
Instead, she stands motionless, breathing so fast she chokes on the rain that drips into her mouth.
It’s after nine p.m., subway stifling and crowded. Renee pulls sweaty hair off her neck, two twists into a haphazard ponytail.
Jack holds Teri on one arm. Cheeks pink, eyes blinking intermittently, she’s almost asleep.
He whispers, “Can you hold her? I need to call Kim.”
Teri’s arms encircle Renee’s neck; sticky hands catch in her hair. She smells like cotton candy.
Renee would die for this child.
Living with her is frightening, being entrusted with something so valuable measurement becomes meaningless.
Jack watches them, eyes uncertain. “I can take her to Kim’s.”
“No. I want her to stay.”
The laughter crescendos as Renee walks down the hall, gripping a towel.
She’s anxious, jittery -- annoyed with herself for being either.
Around anyone besides Jack, she searches for the exit, for crevices.
Places to hide.
“The turtle can’t eat the alligator!” Teri protests.
“This turtle is mutant,” Jack announces.
Renee pushes open the door. Teri looks up, covered in bubbles. “Renee! Will you read me The Lorax?”
“Don’t you want your grandpa to-”
“No you! He makes scary voices.”
“She asked twice,” Jack adds.
“Okay.” She retreats to find the book, secretly smiling in the warmth of being chosen.
It’s 6:30 a.m. on her first day at CTU L.A.
Neither of them slept.
Renee rips open another packet of sugar.
The tearing paper can’t be as loud as it sounds.
“Did they figure out where you’re starting?” He stares at her cheekbone (nervous careful dusting of blush), not her eyes.
“Field ops. The guy in charge is retiring soon.”
And you’ll be replacing him.
“I’ll see you tonight.” He stands. “Be careful. Because I-”
He can’t finish. He walks into the brightening sunshine, no looking back. Shallow breaths, clenched fists.
He won’t admit he’s praying.
“Stephen! Where are the chicken wings?” Kim clutches the grill fork like a weapon.
Miserable and overheated, Renee wishes she could slip through the deck’s floorboards.
“Why are you wearing long sleeves? It’s hot!” A boy Teri’s age stares up, brown eyes inquisitive.
Jack materializes beside her. “Ryan, can you find Teri? Dinner’s on.”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
His thumb slides under her sleeve to touch her scar. “Yeah, I did. You mad?”
“No.” She means it. “I’m not used to-”
He leans in, mouth hot where it brushes her ear. “Get used to it.”
Renee vanishes between the neon blue and orange Little Mermaid cake and Stephen’s infamous margaritas.
Jack notices. He doesn’t follow her.
Later he takes out the trash, walks across the lawn barefoot in the darkness. Renee’s on her back at the edge of the sycamore, studying the sky.
He lies beside her. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m not good at this.”
“Neither am I.”
“You fake it better.” Her words waver.
He rolls over her and kisses her mouth. Taste of chocolate, smell of earth.
“You’re no one’s replacement.” Speaking hurts.
She kisses him back, hard and wanting. “I know.”
At 7:30 a.m., the line at the DMV stretches to the door.
Jack reads Newsweek.
Renee listens to her iPod, fighting claustrophobia.
Jack’s head snaps up. “Did you grab the birth certificates?”
She exhales. “You said you’d get them.
“No, I told you I’d get the post office stuff.”
“Shit. I swear you said-” She steps out of line. “Never mind.”
She walks to the car, blinking in the sunlight.
“We sound like we’re married,” Jack mutters. He’s quelling a smile.
She picks his favorite radio station and turns it up loud.
Clapton sings. The breeze blows her hair.
She’s in the laundry room (more accurately ‘closet,’ given the size of their condo), pulling still-warm clothes out of the dryer. She extracts the leg of his jeans from a pair of her underwear.
“Have you seen my phone charger?” Jack walks in, cell in his hand, wearing only black boxer briefs.
Despite his enthusiasm for sex, he doesn’t spend a lot of time half-naked.
It ambushes her occasionally; she’s half of something. Terror and euphoria, a twisted double helix.
“I think it’s by the toaster.”
“Thanks.” He reaches for the laundry basket. “You coming to bed?”
“Yeah. Two minutes.”
He’s reading when she slips into bed. She scans the varied terrain of his body. The truth is he fascinates her.
Sometimes she wants to ask him everything, all in the same breath.
Her finger moves across his chest, outlining a raised white scar. “Are you ever going to tell me what happened there?”
He presses her hand, so hard the rhythmic thud of his heart vibrates her skin.
“Yeah. Not tonight.” He strokes the white line on her wrist. “Are you gonna tell me about this?”
She swallows. He still makes her dizzy. “What do you want to know?”
He surprises her at work -- vegetable biryani on an idle Wednesday.
It’s the first time he’s been in the building, despite his Level Four clearance.
Everything gleams white and reflective.
It’s unsettling as hell to be out of place here.
A blond head pops around the corner. “Renee, Vasquez called. Her team’s ten minutes out from the warehouse. You said you wanted point.”
“Go. We’ll eat this for dinner.”
She leans forward and kisses his lips, whispers, “I love you,” before vanishing down the sparkly tile hallway.
He hates this. He doesn’t even trust himself with her life.
Most of the time, he can get her going by pouring a glass of juice or . . . breathing. He’s too modest to understand this.
She wonders when he’ll stop acting as if she’s doing him a favor every time he unclasps her bra.
She’s been home for five minutes; he already has her naked, back against the wall, his body sliding into hers. He rubs the inside of her thighs where he holds her.
“Can you come like this?” he whispers.
He shuts up. The pressure inside her shifts when he moves.
He recognizes the cadence of her voice before the smashing in his head and unrelenting hum in his ears allow him to decipher distinct words.
“I’m going in there. His daughter is on her way. Call security. I don’t care.”
Three taps of her shoes and she’s holding his hand, leaning into the bedrail. “How’s your head?”
His mouth feels immobile, but he hates the white anxiety on her face. “LAPD was too far behind.” He pauses. “I meant to clip the guy’s fender.”
She ignores the tear that slips off her chin. “Good thing you were driving the Ford.”
Target’s quiet this late.
Renee stands in front of the Jello. No yellow. Every flavor but lemon.
This is the third store she’s tried. She curses under her breath, buys lime.
When she opens the hospital room door, Jack squints in the muted light. “How’d you get in here? They kicked Kim out at eight.”
“CTU badge works miracles.”
He chuffs. “You look pissed off.”
“I went to buy Jello. Nobody had lemon, so I got lime.”
“You came back to bring me Jello?”
“That surprises you?” His expression undoes her a little.
“No. Not really.” He smiles. “Thank you.”
The condo’s so quiet.
She’s been gone for two weeks, an op in Mexico.
Jack’s never checked email so often.
Gmail loads. He exhales. firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject line reads: ‘You’re not missing anything.’
He clicks it open. “I think the cashew butter is by the raisins. They don’t have diet soda here. I can’t sleep. I miss you.” He hears her voice.
His chest hurts.
He glances at her side of the bed -- wrinkle-free, undisturbed.
He thought he could learn not to hate this. It makes her happy.
He was wrong. It’s selfish as hell, but he wants her here.
The sharp triple-crack in the neon-studded darkness startles Renee, but not as much as half a second later -- abrasive scrape of brick through her shirt, Jack’s body covering hers as he pushes her against the wall.
It’s hard to breathe, but she doesn’t struggle. “Jack. It’s the rifle game.”
He releases her. “Fuck. I’m sorry.” Embarrassment wraps his words.
Impulsive, she grabs his hand. “Win me a leopard?”
He doesn’t miss once.
They walk to the car, his jacket draped over her shoulders.
“You’re gonna give that to Teri, aren’t you?”
She rubs the soft fur. “Not this one.”
The first four times she doesn’t answer her cell, he shrugs it off.
She’s busy. It’s happened before.
He focuses his attention on the file in front of him -- information without emotion, neat categories.
Seven hours and fifteen calls later, he’s in the men’s restroom, forehead against the stall’s icy metal.
Something inside of him is cracking.
He jumps when his cell rings.
“I’m okay.” He sits on the toilet, fully clothed. “There was an explosion. Layton and I got trapped in a sub-basement. We couldn’t get service.”
“Come home. Please.” He can’t breathe.
“I’m on my way.”
Trembling, he’s on her before she can close the door.
“Jack, I’m sorry. I know-” His mouth cuts her off.
He’s always so gentle with her it’s easy to forget what his body is capable of. He propels her down the hall, hands so tight on her upper arms she’ll have bruises. He yanks at her clothes, clumsy, all rigid muscle and sharp bone.
She hears thread snapping and panics, flashing back.
The fear evaporates in seconds. It’s Jack, terrified.
She can give him what he needs.
“Shh,” she soothes, pulling her shirt over her head. “Let me help.”
It’s over in two minutes. The fog recedes, and he collapses with his face in her neck, her heart slamming against his chest.
His throat burns, but he forces the words. “I’m so sorry,” he gasps. “Did I hurt you?”
“No.” Emphatic. Her warm hand skims the curve of his back. “Jack, breathe. I’m fine. Everything’s okay.”
“No. I don’t know what-”
“You thought it happened again.” She tightens her arms.
“That’s no excuse.”
“You would have stopped if I said anything,” she whispers. “I didn’t want you to.”
His cheek is wet where it touches hers. “I love you.”
She’s washing dishes when he gets out of the shower. He’s so pissed off with himself that part of him wants to stay back, let her recalibrate.
The other part still needs to touch her.
The second part wins. A cup slips out of her soapy hands and disappears into the suds. “I quit CTU.”
“Renee, stop. I lost it. Let me get some Thai and we’ll talk.”
“While I was in the shower?”
“All I had to do was call Madison.”
He closes his eyes and exhales into her hair. “Why?”
“Because you never ask for anything.”
Renee hugs her jacket, shivering in the chill that rises off the ice.
On the rink, Jack bends into a curve. Gripping his hand, Teri shrieks with joy as the speed of the arc spins her almost out of control.
Kim turns to Renee and says abruptly, “Thank you for quitting CTU.”
Her blunt lack of bullshit (so much like her father it hurts) unsettles Renee, delays her response time. “He was never gonna ask.”
Kim smiles, shaking her head. “He didn’t want to have to.”
Renee says nothing. Jack and Teri’s intermingled laughter penetrates the frost.
She’s warmer now.
He smirks when she steals his milkshake for the third time. “I thought you liked raspberry.”
They’re sitting on the boardwalk, toes buried in sand.
They’re so ass-backwards. He showered with her this morning, but he doesn’t know her favorite milkshake flavor.
“You’ve been quiet since you got off work.” He leaves it; she’ll tell him if she wants to.
She stares at the ocean. “I keep thinking about my mom.”
“Didn’t you say she’s in Portland?”
He thinks about Kim. “You could call. Once.”
She looks at him, eyes shiny. “I will when we get home.”
The needle punctures his skin, sting he’d notice if it weren’t for the acid dripping into open wounds. The liquid fizzes as it dissolves his flesh.
He bites down, blood from his tongue.
He won’t scream.
He sits up choking, trembling, stomach clenched.
He was screaming.
Renee stares at him, eyes wide.
He stumbles into the bathroom, shuts the door, and turns the tap to freezing. The slap of water on his face restores reality.
A soft knock. “Jack?”
“Give me one second.”
He listens to the retreating thud of her footsteps, swish of the comforter.
He opens the door.
She waits, fixated on the sliver of light under the door.
It expands when Jack walks out, toweling his face. He reaches for her hand.
“I’ve never dreamt about China when . . . I wasn’t alone.”
She doesn’t know what to do.
“Do you-” She’s terrified to ask. “Want to talk?”
“Apparently I need to.” Silence. “Can you come here?”
“Yes.” He wraps his arms around her. Sweat coats her skin.
“They tried to convince me they had Kim . . . “ he begins.
She shuts her eyes. Everything’s crumbling, but his words are demolition and reconstruction combined.
“Do you miss CTU?” He’s drowsy, head in her lap, TV as background noise.
“All the time. You?”
“Liar.” Her foot brushes a stuffed dolphin Teri left behind.
When Renee was five, she broke a porcelain dolphin. Her dad reconstructed it. Whole again, but the jagged fissures remained, blood mixed with glue along the sutures.
Jack’s pieced her back together, but she’s still imperfect, indelible hairline cracks.
On a good day, she hopes they’re even.
He sneaks her t-shirt up, kisses her stomach. “Let’s go to bed.” He’s warm, sleepy.
She settles down beneath him. “Okay. Five more minutes.”
“You lost the bet. Go!” Stephen slurps an orange Jello shot.
Renee tilts back her shot of vodka. “I’m going! Shut up.”
She swore she didn’t want to come to Kim’s party.
Now she’s holding a karaoke mic.
The scarlet flush begins in her chest and creeps into her face, backlighting her freckles as she belts Benatar’s “Heartbreaker.”
Watching (transfixed), he loves her so much it’s tangible, concrete as the icy bottle in his fingers, the taste of malt in his mouth.
The sensation makes him shaky.
Finished, she collapses, electric red. “I have to kill Stephen now.”
“You were beautiful.” It’s worth the entire night to see the shift in her eyes, the light when she realizes he’s serious.
“Where did you learn to-” he starts. She’s not even listening, laughing while she watches Kim fumble with the mic, trying to find, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me.’
“I’m gonna grab a beer.” She squeezes his knee. “You want one?”
He’ll ask her later.