Characters: Jack Bauer, Renee Walker, Audrey Raines
Summary: Her hair smells the same, the way the shower always did when he got in after (or with) her in the morning, and his eyes burn because she’s hugging him back now; she’s happy and safe and whole.
Warnings: None. Post S7 (or S8?) AU.
Disclaimer: They’re not mine. Frak.
Aside: This story is a response to a prompt in this post. I'm including links to a couple other ficlets I haven't posted here:
(Renee/Larry [Any place except your heart])
(Jack/Renee [London Calling])
(Ethan/Allison [After All])
A/N: Under the cut.
This is for marinw, who gave me this prompt. (The story applies to the second one. The one for the first is even smushier;) She said it could be used for Jack/Renee or Jack/Audrey, and because I'm incapable of keeping things simple (or writing comment-length fic, goddammit!), I did both! There's never enough love and thanks for my betas, lowriseflare and adrenalin211.
She calls on a cold drizzly Thursday when he’s halfway through a huge mug of ‘dark magic’ espresso blend (he remembers because the name amuses him), listening to NPR and waiting for Renee to get out of the shower. He doesn’t recognize the number, almost lets it go to voicemail. Then he notices the 206 area code and remembers fragments from his last halting, awkward conversation with James Heller.
Moved to Seattle
Working for Homeland Security
Married a carpenter
The baby’s due in July
“Jack. It’s Audrey.”
“Audrey.” He’s impressed his vocal cords managed that much. The sound of her voice sucks reality from the atmosphere, creates a dream vortex.
Talking to ghosts.
“I know this is out of nowhere, but I’m here for a conference and I was wondering if you’re free for lunch.”
His hand is shaking (it still does, sometimes, but this isn’t the biotoxin), so he sets the steaming coffee on the counter. “Yeah. Of course I’m free. Where do you want me to meet you?”
“Chelsea Market. At one? If that’s too early I can try to rearrange my schedule.”
“No. It’s fine. I’ll be there.” He clears his throat, still struggling against the feeling that he can’t locate himself in time. “I’m . . . glad you called.”
“Me, too.” There’s that subtle smile in her voice, so exactly the sound he remembers that he digs his nails into his palm, pushing until pain radiates up his arm. “See you at one. Bye.”
The call disconnects and the phone display reverts to the picture of Teri on her swing-set, but he doesn’t realize he’s standing there, staring at the grey rectangle, until Renee says, “Is something wrong?” She’s buttoning her shirt, hair smooth and damp on her shoulders.
“That was Audrey,” he says, clearing his throat. The words feel sticky.
“Oh.” Renee pulls a mug from the cupboard. “Is she all right?”
“I-” He grabs his coffee cup, tips it back and swallows, hard. “I think so. She wants to have lunch this afternoon.”
“She’s here? That’s great. Where are you eating?” Renee pours a shot of pumpkin creamer into her coffee.
“You’re okay with that?”
She looks at him, confused. “Of course I’m okay with it.” She steps toward him and presses both hands softly into his chest. The warmth of her fingers reminds him to inhale. “Are you?”
Lunch with Audrey bubbles so many things to the surface that he can’t follow or process them all. He thinks of Esperanza Rising, a novel he read to Kim when she was ten or eleven (in that phase where she’d still let him read before bed as long as he took a blood oath never to tell anyone). Kim loved the book, but she hated the symbolic river that divided her two favorite characters. He’s reminded of the river, again and again, while he and Audrey say all the things people say when words fail and the universe refuses to cooperate by offering up an alternative form of communication.
Tell me about Kim. How old’s your granddaughter now?
What’s the job at DHS like?
Dad says you’re back at CTU. How did that happen?
Do you have pictures of the baby?
When it’s over and they’re standing on the street, coats catching the sudden gusts of wind, faces shiny from the misty drizzle, he pulls Audrey into his arms. Her hair smells the same, the way the shower always did when he got in after (or with) her in the morning, and his eyes burn because she’s hugging him back now; she’s happy and safe and whole.
That’s all he ever wanted.
After he slams the cab door and watches it merge into the flood of matching yellow, he walks for hours, no destination, and thinks of all the things they did not say.
I missed you.
Last month while I was waiting in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, I thought about how you used to love the lemon-filled ones with powdered sugar.
I’m glad you’re with someone who doesn’t hurt you, keeps you safe.
God, I’m sorry.
His hands are so slippery from the rain that it takes him three tries to unlock the apartment door. He leaves his squishy shoes in the hall.
Renee’s in the kitchen, stirring something. Chopped vegetables, a vibrant heap of green, orange and red, sit in a bowl to her left. The air smells like curry, like the Autumn Wreath candle he bought for her last week because he knows how much she loves fall.
She looks up and smiles in his direction. “Hey. You’re soaked! Dinner won’t be ready for another half an hour if you want to take a shower.”
His eyes hurt again because this is how it is with them. She’s never going to ask.
“I’ll shower after dinner. Let me change and I’ll help.”
In the bedroom, he sheds his damp clothes and pulls on a dry shirt and jeans. Quiet, he’s still disoriented, like he came this close to being broadsided by an eighteen-wheeler and the adrenaline slam hasn’t worn off. He glances around the room -- physical evidence, pieces of his life.
Three pairs of his jeans, folded and stacked on the chair for him to put away. He knows without moving what they smell like, the Mountain Spring laundry detergent he’d never used before Renee moved in. Two pairs of Renee’s discarded socks by her side of the bed – she never keeps them on for more than ten minutes once she’s indoors. His navy hoodie tossed on the chair, the one Renee stole last night when they were watching Jim Lehrer. Renee’s face cream on the edge of his dresser. The novel he’s reading, open and flipped over on the beside table, because she’d distracted him mid-paragraph. The triumvirate of prescriptions he still has to take, lined up, black type and multicolored warning stickers.
He thinks about China, about Sangala, all the nights he fell asleep alone.
How it was so much safer, then.
In the kitchen, he walks up behind Renee and wraps both arms around her waist. She releases the spoon and covers his arms with hers, pressing him closer. Her skin is marked with scratches and scrapes from an encounter with a brick wall during an op that went south yesterday. He can feel her heartbeat beneath his fingers.
“Was it bad?” she whispers, leaning her head back so her cheek touches his.
“No. Not at all.” His voice sounds broken.
“Are you okay?”
He thinks perfect, but that’s a lie. “Yeah.” He kisses her neck, holds his mouth to her skin for a second before he lets her go. “You want me to make a salad after I set the table?”
“Sure. I think I bought a jalapeno.” Renee licks white sauce off the end of her finger.
He takes plates and bowls out of the cupboard, knives and forks from the drawer. Two of everything in his hands. As he sets the glasses on the table, he watches her, stirring with one hand and sneaking grated cheese with the other.
“Hmm?” She glances over her shoulder.
“What’s your favorite kind of donut?”