Author:Karen T (email@example.com)
Disclaimers:Jen is mine; all others I'm "borrowing" from JJ Abrams, Touchstone, ABC, and Bad Robot. Except for a bit of emotional scarring, I promise to return them no worse for the wear. ;) Summary is courtesy of "Lockdown" by the wonderful nanda. Definitely go read that fic if you haven't already.
Spoilers:Very minor for "Trust Me" and "Cipher."
Classification:UPT (unresolved parental tension), angst, drama, post-"Trust Me." Oh, and the minute "Cipher" aired, this fic became AU.
Archive:CM, of course. All others, please ask first.
Giddy squeals of thanks to:Mai and Diana for the fabulous beta work, Jenai for telling me to step away from my keyboard and stop deleting things, Lara for the Camp Swampy reference, and nanda for all the UPT chats and supplying me with the bounce for my plot bunny.
Summary:"What you will not ask yourself is this: Why didn't Laura come back for Sydney?"
One hall diverged into two, which then bled into four, then eight, then sixteen, then thirty-two.
Standing just inside the building's main doorway, Jen lifted an eyebrow and studied the expanse that lay before her. Located on the outer edge of the northeast side of a sleepy Southern California campus, this lecture hall could only be described as ludicrous, a ludicrous labyrinth of disconnected corridors housed within four walls.
Local rumor – or legend, as some liked to call it – claimed the building and its illogical floor plan was the product of two architect brothers who, a month and a half after construction had begun, had a falling out over a woman. Since neither wished to lay eyes on the other, the brothers retreated to opposite ends of the building and commenced assembly as each saw fit. What resulted were passageways that never met and rooms that were nonsensically numbered.
The first time Jen had attempted to find Room 1351, she'd gotten lost. She'd arrived thirty minutes early for her meeting – the importance of making a good first impression, you know – but had ended up being forty-five minutes late as she'd grown more and more flustered. And by the time she'd stumbled into the room – panting, cheeks flushed, clothes awry – she'd already learned to hate the entire building as well as the person waiting for her, his mouth set into a disapproving frown as he consulted the time on his Cartier watch.
And as she now took a right down one hallway (which would be followed by a left, another left, a right, a left, a right…), she recollected that first meeting and shook her head. If someone had told her then that, four years later, she'd still be Jack Bristow's handler, she would have laughed and said, "Yeah, I don't think so." But here she was, on her way to see him in this absurdly designed lecture hall, which was his favorite meeting spot.
According to her watch, she was almost a full hour early for the meet, which was something she'd planned on purpose. For once, Jack, she thought as she hurried down yet another identical corridor, I'm going to be in that room before you.
But when she pushed open the door to Room 1351, there was Jack, already seated in a distressed oak chair. And, as if on cue, he glanced up from some papers he'd been studying to look at the clock hanging on the wall opposite from where he sat. "You're early," he said with mild surprise.
Suppressing the desire to roll her eyes, Jen grabbed the chair next to Jack's and repositioned it – its legs scraping loudly against the scuffed tile floor – so she could sit facing him. "You've really got to stop doing that, Jack."
"Making me look bad."
"Then you've got to stop making it so easy," he retorted with a smirk.
She was fully aware that some would consider their banter flirtatious, but it wasn't. Besides the fact that Jack was almost the same age as her father, she knew he didn't look at her in 'that way,' and the feeling was mutual on her end. The relationship between the two of them was one of respect, which was something she'd spent two years earning. It had really taken her two years – two years of effective countermission planning, two years of sleepless nights spent scouring endless documents so she could keep him appraised of what SD-6 was doing and to whom, two years of covering for him when the anniversary of his wife's death would roll around and he'd secretly go on a drinking binge – before he'd learned to trust her and stopped speaking in monosyllabic grunts.
"How is it that I haven't put a bullet through your heart myself?" she asked as she crossed her legs.
"Your parents raised you well. Shaped you into a decent human being," he replied without missing a beat. She could tell he was being serious.
"Right. I'll have to be sure to thank them when I see them at Christmas."
"Plus, you're a good agent. An asset to the CIA."
The compliment made her blush, which she was sure Jack knew would happen. "Not bad for a girl who you initially believed only got this position because she'd either 'laid the right man or made sure Daddy's hand was in the appropriate politician's pocket,' huh?"
Jack winced and lowered his eyes to the floor in shame. "Did I really say all that?"
"Not in so many words, but the things you didn't say that day were pretty deafening." When Jen saw Jack's countenance grow even graver, she laughed as her way of lightening the mood. "But, hey, don't worry about it. Really. I was young and naïve and very wet behind the ears then, so you had every right to be suspicious of my qualifications."
"You are a good agent, Jen," Jack asserted with quiet insistence. "You've developed into…someone you should be proud of."
"Thank you." She smiled and wished he were the kind of man who would allow a hug. She liked giving people hugs and often wondered when the last time was that Jack had received one. "That means a lot coming from you. But that's not why I called you down here."
"Right." He rearranged his expression into one of gravity. "You mentioned something about an emergency on the phone. What's going on? I just spoke with Sydney this morning and know she's fine, so…"
Jen opened her mouth to speak only to shut it without uttering a word. She thought she'd gotten to a point in her career where relaying bad news no longer affected her, but her current state of confusion told her otherwise. "There's, well… There's really no good way to say this… I, um… Judy Barnett, she…" She hesitated again and looked off to the left as she felt tears spring to her eyes. "She's…dead."
Shock flitted across Jack's face as he digested the news. He blinked several times, licked his lips, and then rubbed them together. Anyone else probably would have wondered why he wasn't showing more emotion, but Jen knew that was about as emotional as he would get when dealing with something that didn't involve Sydney – or Irina Deverko. "That's…terrible," he muttered. "When did it happen? How did it happen?"
"Well, the when was last night, a little after midnight, in the office parking lot. The how? That depends on who you ask."
"The police who arrived on the scene after her body was found by a patrolling security guard believe her death was the result of a car jacking gone bad. They think someone – or someones – was in the middle of breaking into her car when she came upon the scene. When she put up a fight, she was killed."
"So that's what the police think. But what do we think?"
"We actually agreed," Jen began with a shrug, "until her assistant came into the office this morning and realized that Barnett's tapes are no longer in her safe."
"Her tapes?" Jack's eyes grew large with confusion as his tongue tripped over the last word he'd said.
"Yes, the tapes of her therapy sessions." Jen furrowed the space between her brows. Why did Jack sound so perplexed? "Barnett usually kept them locked in a safe in her office, but when her assistant opened the safe today, the tapes were no longer there. While this could be a mere coincidence, Devlin believes that—"
"Wait," Jack interrupted forcefully, his eyes clouding over in anger. "She had tapes of her therapy sessions?"
"Yes. Jack, this is common knowledge. Everyone knows Barnett audiotaped all of her sessions in order for her to be able to go back and take extensive notes on them later. She made all her patients sign release forms at the beginning of their first session with her. You signed a form, Jack. I've seen it. It's in your file."
Jack swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat and struggled to recollect back to the first time he'd been ordered – by his daughter, no less – to see Barnett. He'd been livid to the point of almost being incoherent that day, and he'd been embarrassed beyond belief, ashamed that he'd succumbed to his one weakness and fear. It was entirely possible he'd signed a form then, although he certainly couldn't remember doing so now.
"Jack?" Jen studied his face with concern. If this was his reaction to the news of Barnett's death, then how was he going to handle what she was about to tell him? "Are you—"
"I'm fine. Please. Continue. Barnett's tapes are missing and…?"
"Well, Devlin doesn't know what to make of that. It's entirely possible that Barnett had taken them home, which is apparently something she occasionally did when she planned on working out of the office for a few days. But in light of how she was working uncharacteristically late last night and the fact that she's…well, dead, Devlin wants to take some precautions."
She paused here to see if her mention of 'precautions' would produce some sort of nonverbal response from Jack. But it didn't; he just remained staring at her blankly. "If all her patients had been run-of-the-mill agents," she continued, "Devlin would simply circle the wagons and release a statement of 'no comment' if anything untoward made its way to the press. But you, Jack, your case is special. None of us know exactly what you and Barnett discussed during your sessions, but we're assuming that you probably mentioned, at least once or twice, that you're a double. That being the case, this means that your life could be in danger if someone…bad were to find those tapes before we do. Consequently, Devlin wants you in seclusion until we find out what happened to those tapes."
Again, another moment of silence, and again, not a trace of emotion across his face. Damn, he is good, she mused in her head. He never ceased amazing her with his skills. "You should consider it a…completely unplanned yet not entirely unwelcome vacation," Jen suggested as she broke into a toothy grin with the hope of selling him on Devlin's plans.
"Seclusion?" he asked, his tone wary.
The corners of her lips crept up a few millimeters despite the serious undertones of their conversation. She'd known the instant those words had left her mouth that he would choose to focus on his impending seclusion rather than on her mention of a vacation. "I'm sorry, Jack, but it's necessary. You know that."
"I do." He shifted his position in the chair and focused his eyes on a crack in the wall directly above Jen's head. Maybe some time off won't be such a bad thing, he contemplated. After all, he was tired of feeling Sloane's untrusting, inquisitive eyes on the back of his head every time he spoke to someone at SD-6. And he was tired of being at Kendall's beck and call, the assistant director's grating voice snapping orders into his ear every hour on the hour ("Cooperate with me, Jack!" "Tell Sydney to see her mother, Jack!" "This is a matter of national security, Jack!"). A few days away from everyone would probably do him invaluable good.
Sliding his gaze downward until it settled on Jen's grayish-blue eyes, he asked, "How long are we talking about?"
"I'd plan for at least a week." She could see resignation slowly fill Jack's body – the slight droop forward of his shoulders, the almost undetectable twitch of a muscle behind his left cheek – and breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn't wanted to fight him on this, but would have if push had come to shove. "It's actually a great opportunity if you think about it."
His head shot upwards as his eyes grew large once more. "A great opportunity?"
"Yeah. You and Sydney, alone, in a house in the middle of—"
"Sydney and I?" A tinge of red began climbing upward from Jack's neck. His hands, which had been resting on his thighs, were now curled into tight balls, the knuckles a bright white contrast against his tanned skin.
This wasn't the first time Jen had seen Jack on the brink of imploding from worry. Despite the ribald jokes uttered behind closed Agency doors about how Jack Bristow was colder than the Abominable Snowman, she knew his love for Sydney was always foremost on his mind. She had no doubt he would kill for her, because of her. "Yes. Sydney needs to be in seclusion as well since—"
"I mentioned her during my sessions with Barnett," Jack finished, his right fist digging into his upper thigh in anger. "Because I talked about her, Sydney now has to be hidden away for her own safety. How could I have been so stupid to drag her name into my sessions? I know better than that."
Inching forward in her chair, Jen extended a hand to wrap around one of Jack's when she realized what she was doing and pulled it back down into her lap. Sometimes, when she was reacting on emotion rather than reason, she found it difficult to remember how much Jack didn't appreciate being touched. She hesitated for a moment before leaning towards him and dropping her voice to the level of a soothing whisper. "Well, yes, there's that," she said, careful to keep her voice even, "but there's also the fact that Sydney's had her own slew of sessions with Barnett. It's not your fault, Jack. It's not."
A week ago, at the obscenely early morning hour of 3 am, she'd spoken those exact words to Jack in the parking lot of an out-of-the-way diner that had closed months earlier. He'd called her, on the verge of hysterics, and if he hadn't identified himself by name, she doubted she would have ever ascertained on her own that he was the one on the other end of the phone line. And when she'd finally located her glasses and driven to the site, every last one of his fears had dribbled off his tongue of their own volition.
"She's evil, Jen. That woman…she… She doesn't care, she doesn't feel. And now Sydney's talking to her and she'll become poisoned and it'll be my fault. It will. Because I should have protected her, but I didn't. I wanted revenge. I wanted… And when she tells Sydney everything, I'll lose her. It's all my fault."
And then as abruptly as he'd begun his confessions, Jack had closed himself off and refused to discuss the matter any further, especially what he'd meant by 'everything.' Jen had attempted to broach the subject the following day (as well as the day after that and the day after that), but he'd been adamant, held her with an icy stare and told her it'd been 'nothing' and he was sorry to have bothered her. She'd let it go, but that hadn't meant she'd forgotten.
There was very little she forgot where Jack Bristow was concerned.
"Jack?" Her mind was back in Room 1351 now and they both looked down to find her hand curled around the fingers of his relaxed fist; she had apparently moved it there despite her reservations. "It's really not your—"
"I'm fine." He brusquely extracted his hand from her grip and ran it through the left side of his hair. "If Sydney and I need to be in seclusion for a few days, then so be it. How much time do I have?"
Jen bit her tongue to keep herself from blurting out how tired she was of his recent habit of opening himself up to her only to slam his emotional door shut on her fingers without any advance warning. Examining his graying hairline as a way of stemming her annoyance, she stiffly replied, "A couple of hours. Devlin wants you secure in the safe house before sundown. Does that give you enough time to come up with an excuse to give Sloane?"
"Of course." Jack had stuffed his papers back into his briefcase and was already on his feet and almost out the door before he hesitated mid-stride and pivoted around to face her. "Sydney, she…she's fine with this?"
"She doesn't have a choice but to be."
"Right." A curt nod and then he was gone. She didn't even hear his departing footsteps retreat down the hallway.
Inhaling and exhaling deeply, Jen placed chairs back to the way she imagined they had originally been and did a quick sweep of the room with her eyes to make sure neither of them inadvertently left anything behind.
"And when she tells Sydney everything, I'll lose her."
More now than ever before, Jen wished she knew what lay hidden behind the word 'everything.'