A/N: This is the final chapter of Faces from the Past. It was hard ending it, so I'm a little off schedule, it took a little longer than the usual fortnight. I just couldn't make myself write the final scenes for days... I felt like I was forced to let go of a beloved pet or whatever. Alas, it turned out to be the longest chapter of the 24 but I think you can handle it... Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading it nearly as much as I enjoyed writing it, and if you do, please do let me know :-). Thanks.
Oh, and I need to thank my good friend MFLuder, who stuck with me through the 18 months of writing this, taking care of several minor characters, researching lots of stuff, and she also considerably helped to make Tony the wonderful guy he is and we all love :-)
"Did you just call a hit on someone?" Heller questions Pete, but gets no reply. "Who was it?"
Pete doesn't answer, just feels sorry that he doesn't have a weapon on him. Although, shooting at the Secretary of Defense... He knows he wouldn't make it out of the building alive.
"Pete, what have you done? Tell me." Heller presses on.
Still, no reply. Pete just stands there, a defiant look on his face. I did what I had to do. And even if you stop me, you won't stop what's about to happen, he thinks.
Heller, not wanting to give up, tries again. "Give me your cell phone and let me call them back. If they find out I know about the plan, they'll see it's useless to pursue it."
Pete grins for a second, then mumbles: "It's too late."
Heller doesn't move but it seems Pete is finally becoming talkative. He keeps his voice strong, demanding. "It isn't. It can still be stopped. Just tell me who the target is and -"
"NO!" Pete interrupts him. At Heller's surprised look, he adds: "Even if I told you, you couldn't stop it."
"He's gone dark. You can't reach him. And neither can I. It's over." he replies, almost triumphantly.
Heller stares at Pete for just a second, then calls out: "Jason!" and one of his bodyguards shows up at the door to the restroom, opening it.
"Pete isn't working with us any more. Take him to a room where I can talk to him alone." Heller tells him, his eyes not leaving Pete's for a second. I need to get a hold of Jack immediately.
Jason walks inside and past Heller, three steps are all he needs to take to approach Pete enough, drawing his weapon in the process and points it at Pete. "Turn around, face the wall." he tells him and Pete reluctantly obeys. Jason then holsters the weapon again, and cuffs Pete's hands behind his back. Then he ruggedly pulls him away from the wall. "Move."
As Pete starts to walk, Heller nods to Jason ever so slightly. The bodyguard grabs Pete from behind, and slams him against the wall to the side. Not being able to use his hands for protection, Pete hits the wall head first. As Jason grabs him again to turn him around, blood is already starting to trickle from Pete's nose.
Things are moving fast. Dr. Burke and an anesthesiologist are hovering over Tony, trying to determine the extent of his injuries before the surgery. Around them are technicians and nurses; some applying monitors or more IV's into Tony in order to put him under general anesthesia. Others are making the final preparations as the doctors now go to scrub in for the surgery.
Michelle is standing nearby, wearing scrubs and holding Tony's hand, Dr. Burke having officially allowed her to be there until they actually begin surgery. Maybe it was because he was feeling guilty, since he had taken part in the events, but his reasons didn't matter to her. She wouldn't have let them keep her out of the operating room anyway; especially not when no-one could tell her whether Tony's chances of surviving were anywhere in the positive range of the probability scale.
"Ok, let's get started." Burke says and the anesthetics soon start pulling Tony under. Michelle whispers a shy "I love you." before he dozes off, although he may or may not have heard her. As Tony's hand turns heavy and sloppy in Michelle's, and his eyes close peacefully, Burke speaks to her, almost apologetically: "Mrs Almeida, I'm sorry, but I must ask you to leave now. I'll send someone out to let you know how he's doing as soon as we know more, all right?"
With a heavy heart, Michelle nods, knowing they can't use a bystander while performing surgery. "Okay, doctor, thank you." She cautiously lets go of Tony's hand, laying it down beside him. Good luck, honey. She starts to leave the room, but adds. "I have to take care of a couple of things in the office, then I'll be down here." She leaves the room with one final glance towards Tony.
Outside, she takes off the scrubs, throwing them away, and remains standing by a wall for a few moments. She can hear the doors behind her close and as they do, separating her from Tony once again, she can suddenly feel an overwhelming urge to cry. Along with the bitter feeling that is beginning to rise from the deepest core of her being to the back of her mouth, what comes along is one image, one impression from the dark cell: Tony, tortured, bleeding and broken, with her weapon in his hand, ready to use it on himself. Leaning the palm of her hand on a wall for support, she closes her eyes, giving herself a moment to breathe.
She hears a noise outside, and quickly sends her hands to her eyes now, getting rid of the treacherous drops underneath them quickly, and is about to head over to the main floor when she almost bumps into Steve, who comes in from the hallway. He apologizes quickly, but as they both stand there, silence seems both inappropriate and uncomfortable, so he puts out a question: "How's Tony doing?"
Michelle looks away from him for a moment, still unsure if her emotional state is legible from her eyes before replying. "No-one really knows. He's in surgery now." Then she looks at him.
"I hope he'll be okay." he says sincerely. Michelle nods, but her eyes linger on Steve. His hands are in the pockets of his jeans and he is looking at her as if there is something else he wants to say, but doesn't really dare to.
A few seconds later, Michelle speaks again: "You knew, didn't you? What Hammond was doing to Tony?"
Now Steve averts his eyes from Michelle, for a moment glancing at the white walls of the hallway, and then staring at the floor. He did see Tony cuffed to the pole, he knew that Knoll had been called in, even though he didn't know all the details. He had thought of telling her, he had wanted to tell her, but Hammond had explicitly forbidden him to. I should have told her. I should have, despite Hammond.
He sighs, then quietly replies. "I did."
Not surprised, she says matter-of-factly: "And you hid it from me." not even making the words sound like a question.
Steve nervously runs a hand over the back of his neck before replying. "I know I should have told you. Believe me, I wanted to..." He pauses. He was about to put the blame on Hammond, hide behind having been given orders, but changes his mind. There was a choice to make and he made it.
He sighs before continuing. "For what it's worth, Michelle, I didn't believe Tony was working with Ragen. Not for a minute. But this was an investigation, and aren't we always told that, no matter how uncomfortable the consequences, we need to see things through?"
Yes, that's true, she thinks, for a moment trying to surpress the injustice of it all to the back of her head and to see things without emotion, objectively. But this was an unjustified investigation. He should have told me what was happening.
She doesn't reply, however, so he speaks on. "When I saw him cuffed to the pole, I -"
"You saw him?!" she asks, her eyes now widely open, her self-control in sudden jeopardy.
Steve nods. There, now it's out. "Yes, I saw him. I... had to talk to Hammond and the door opened and I saw Tony, and I was thinking that he didn't deserve that. But there was nothing I could do... I had to give Hammond all the information I had and trust that justice would prevail. I don't know what else I could have done." he finishes, his tone apologetic.
Michelle felt anger come up inside her more with every word she heard and now it flares up in her eyes even before she begins to speak. "For one thing, you could have done a better job of researching your facts!" she hisses at him. "Some of the information you gave Hammond was false or unlikely, but probably led him to torture Tony even harder. They almost killed him in there! Tony would have died in that cell, had Chloe not proven the evidence wrong! Think about it!" she shouts.
There is a stunned look on Steve's face as she pushes herself past him, wanting to get her work done, so she can come back to the clinic as soon as possible. Before she walks up the stairwell, she turns to Steve again angrily. "I hope you can live with the guilt if Tony dies!"
Michelle hastily leaves the clinic, while Steve remains standing where she left him. No need to think about it. I know I couldn't.
"Tell me what's going on, Pete." Heller says.
Pete is on his knees, on the tiled floor of the restroom; traces of several punches are showing on his face already, some blood is smeared around his nose and mouth. He looks at Heller, but doesn't reply. Even though he knows that his wrongdoing will be exposed, he sees no point in stopping what is about to happen.
"Who else is in it with you? Anyone else from within the DOD?" Heller asks, but when he gets no reply, he nods to Jason, who hits Pete hard in the face once again.
"Who else?" Heller says again, looking sternly at his former staffer.
Pete spits to the floor and raises his head again. "No-one." he finally utters.
"Outside the DOD?"
"So you were working alone?"
Pete pauses for a few seconds, his eyes on Heller, then Jason. Eventually, he confirms: "Yeah."
Michelle storms back into her office and sits down at her desk. She isn't in control of herself and this fact is bothering her. The light in the office is dimmed, the bustle of the previous hours is starting to die down and she closes her eyes for just a second, willing and wanting to regain her composure. Before accessing her files on the server, she takes a moment to lean back and breathe in very deeply. Calm down this instant, Michelle. she tells herself. She continues breathing consciously, and after a little while, she begins to feel the soothing effect of more oxygen in her bloodstream.
Still, even though her body seems to relax ever so slightly, her mind can't. As she sits there, she again begins to recall everything that happened in the last hour. Seeing Tony half dead in a cell somewhere below her own office, and almost coming too late for his help, Hammond's being responsible for putting Tony in that state, Burke's hesitation when she asked him if Tony would be okay, her once so strong husband angst-ridden, agony clearly audible in his voice, visible in his eyes, the injuries and marks on his body showing the cruelty of the interrogation he'd been subjected to, and most of all, the sight of him ready and willing to take his own life to prevent further torture, and his fear that she had betrayed him: it is all ripping at her nerves now and making her want to scream and bawl at the same time.
The sound of the ringing phone is something she would rather ignore at this particular moment, but its persisting makes her open her eyes and reach for the receiver. "Division, Dessler." she utters, her voice weaker than usual, but she manages to keep it from quivering.
"This is Lou Brass from District." he starts, cutting through the chase. "We're on our way there. What's your situation?"
Michelle sighs inwardly, fighting to force her thoughts back to her office, not the cell, and not the clinic. You're still in charge of Division, Michelle, get a grip! she tells herself and begins to answer Brass' question; as she speaks, her voice more and more returns to its normal tone. "Well, further evidence supporting Tony Almeida's innocence has surfaced. The statement given to Brad Hammond by Robert Louden has been proven false and it has been revoked. As discussed, I've assumed command of Division. Rae Platchecky is currently taking Hammond's statement."
"How about your logs and files on the past day's events, have they been updated to reflect the current situation of operations?"
Michelle nods. "Yes, they have. I'll be finalizing my report on this case in the next few minutes. All other files are ready and accessible, on my system, including the complete list of inter-agency collaborations that took place today."
"Good. Seems like you have everything well under control. Although it is good that someone from here comes to see things through as your Director has just been detained. That isn't good for the morale and functionality of the unit." Brass continues.
"Yes, thank you." she replies and pauses for a second, before continuing. "I'll have everything ready for you when you arrive and I'll be available for any further questions you may have. But now that the crisis is over..." she pauses. "Tony is in surgery and I need to be with my husband." she tells him decisively, evidently not asking him for permission, but preparing him for what she decided.
Brass nods to himself as if he had been expecting this. "I understand that. We'll talk more when I get there..."
"Thank you." she hangs up, relieved. She would have fought if she had had to, but this time, it looks like it won't be necessary.
CTU / Morgan's van
After bringing Chloe back to CTU, Jack left the area again and started to drive downtown. The streets aren't clogged, and it is another beautiful day - although he hasn't really had time or energy to appreciate it yet. He looks as if he remembered something, and dials a number on his cell phone. Soon, he speaks. "Chloe, it's Jack. Have you faxed Louden's statement to Michelle yet?"
"Hey, Jack. No, not yet." Chloe answers, and closes a file on her computer. "Erin asked to see it too, so I had to show it to her first. Guess she wanted to see for herself that Tony hadn't betrayed us." she says, looking up toward Erin's office. For some reason, she hasn't been interfering lately, it shoots through her head. "But I was just about to fax it now."
Jack is satisfied. "Okay, good. Have you heard anything about Tony's condition?"
"Just that he's in surgery now. They don't know much yet." she replies as she walks over to the fax machine.
"What about Hammond?" Jack asks, and as he pronounces the name, notices that he inwardly cringed at it.
"He's been taken into custody, Michelle took over." Chloe answers, not saying the name; she either noticed Jack's aversion or shared it.
"Good." So he won't be interfering any more. It was about time. "Okay, Chloe, thanks. I'm on my way to the DOD, let me know if there's anything new."
"I will, Jack."
"Okay, good." He hangs up and continues driving.
Division, Michelle's office
Michelle has finished prepping the files for Brass and now she logs off her computer and picks up the phone, then pushes a button. "Sheldon." Steve's voice picks up.
"Steve, could you come up to my office for a minute?" she asks him politely.
"Yeah, sure. I'll be right there." Steve hangs up and immediately walks to her office. He knocks, and when she calls "Come in." he enters: "What's going on?"
Michelle gestures to a chair opposite her desk. "Steve, take a seat." and Steve does, thanking her. She then looks him in the eye. "I asked you here because I need to apologize." she begins. "I'm sorry I yelled at you down at the clinic. I know that you were just doing your job, I just... got emotional because Tony's life is in jeopardy and I am having a really hard time dealing with that once more." she says straight out, realizing she was projecting her anger for Hammond to Steve.
Steve shifts uncomfortably in the seat and glances away for a moment before answering. "Uhm... Look, Michelle, you don't owe me an apology. I made a mistake when I connected Valdez and Tony without looking further into the matter. I should have dug up more information before bringing it to Hammond and I'm really sorry about it. I truly am."
"Thank you." she says sincerely, although it doesn't make things undone. She leans forward, her hands on the desk now and keeps eye contact with him while telling him: "You did make a mistake, Steve. But I hope you learn from it and never do it again."
Steve nods, his eyes lowered to the floor. "Yeah." He sighs, then takes a deep breath. "Michelle, I've decided to quit." he says, then brings her eyes up to meet hers again. "This whole situation with Tony, I... I always thought that I could deal with the fact that we have to extract information from culprits by any means necessary and I firmly believed that we're the good guys..." He pauses. During these few seconds, Michelle is beginning to guess what he's about to say. Her hunch is confirmed as he continues. "But I don't think I've ever realized the moral conflicts I'd be facing the first time the person we interrogated was an innocent." He pauses again, and sees her features soften. He glances at the wall behind her, then sighs yet again. "I just wanted you to know that I truly am sorry for my role in this and that keeping this away from you wasn't something I wanted to do, it's something I had to do, though it wasn't easy... But deciding to quit was. It is the only right thing to do."
Michelle doesn't answer, just keeps her eyes on Steve. Maybe that's the right decision. she thinks.
Steve then stands, and before he turns to leave, he asks. "Is there anything else?"
"No." she utters.
"I'll stay as long as you need me. I'll finish up my reports and prep everything for the next shift, but after that, I'm done."
"Fair enough... I'll see if I can get a replacement from District or CTU."
Steve nods and quietly leaves the office. Michelle watches him descend the stairs and when she doesn't see him any longer, she turns in her chair, leaning her elbows on the desk and her head on the thumbs of her folded hands.
DOD / Morgan's van
After finishing the phone call to Chloe, Jack hits a speed dial button on his phone again and waits.
Audrey is in her temporary office and is just searching for a file on a shelf when the phone rings. She goes to it and picks it up, slightly irritated by its shrill tone and instantly decides to change the ringer. "Raines." She says into the receiver and waits for the caller to ID himself.
"Audrey. It's Jack." he says quietly, or as quietly as the humming of the engine would allow.
To her ears, hearing his voice now sounds like a dream. "Jack..." she utters, incredulously, sitting down on a chair. "Oh my god..." Words fail her at the relief that overcomes her momentarily.
"Hey... It's all right." he whispers soothingly.
She closes her eyes, sighing softly. "I was so worried. We heard you were safe but nothing about your condition. I didn't expect to get to talk to you again today." For a while, I wasn't sure if I ever would, she adds in her mind.
Jack turns at a traffic light. "I'm okay... Are you all right?"
She nods to herself slightly. "Yes... Yes, I'm fine. I'm just glad you made it out again."
"Look, Audrey, I'm on my way to the DOD now. I just wanted to let you know. I'll be there in a few minutes."
"Okay, I'll see you then."
Division holding room
"All right, we're done here. I wish you luck, Brad. You are going to need it." Rae gets up from the chair and packs up her things. "I'm sorry." she says quickly, then she turns away from him and a guard lets her out of the room and closes the door behind her. Brad remains sitting at the lone table.
Outside the room, Michelle meets Rae and asks: "Are you finished?"
"Yes. We're done."
"Okay, thank you." Michelle says, now seemingly emotionless. Somehow, she has managed to put on an impassive face despite the turmoil inside her. She enters the observation room on the other end of the glass and stares at Hammond.
Hammond sits quietly by the table in handcuffs, ready for transport. He is the one in custody, this time. His whole career is crumbling before his eyes. And because of what? he sourly ponders. That traitor, Almeida. He's already been convicted once so who says he wouldn't do it again. I had evidence against him and was acting according to protocol. You're going be spending years in prison, Brad. Unless you can build up a reasonable defense.'I don't think so', says a small voice in his head.
He still has friends in high places, in Congress. Maybe some of them will help him. Although even Hammond knows the truth. With the charges he is facing, no one in their right mind with a career would touch him with a ten foot pole.
Michelle now enters the room, the door buzzing open for her, but she remains standing by the door for a few moments, unsure or unwilling to enter - or both. Hammond turns his head towards the door to see who walked in, but then looks away again.
"So, Brad. How does it feel to be on the other end of the stick? The cold steel suit you? Better get used to it." the words sputtered out before she could stop them. Too great was the satisfaction of knowing that he'd never hurt Tony again. Yet she isn't truly able to rejoice in it, having witnessed the state her husband was in, the agony he's been in since Hammond took him into custody, the uncertainty whether he'd live or not.
"Do you have any idea what you did to Tony? After everything he'd done for us today?" she continues. The question is purely rhetorical and Hammond doesn't answer it. If he had a choice, he would just ignore her and her treasonous husband for the rest of their lives.
Michelle now takes a step or two into the room, coming to face him. She waits for him to lift his head towards her. "I despise you, Brad. I really do." she then says, her eyes focused on his, then pauses, looking at him in disgust. "May God forgive you, Brad. Maybe even a judge will. But I won't. Ever." she adds.
"Forgive me for what, Michelle?" he finally utters, not in the mood for being kicked around in the dust. "I did everything by the book. I was acting on evidence I had at the time and took him into custody. The witness clearly stated that Tony was involved and could thus jeopardize the rest of the operation." he responds, still flippant. She was his subordinate and he was damned if he'd give her the satisfaction of seeing him destroyed.
"WHAT evidence?" Michelle exclaims. "You didn't even bother to view the surveillance tapes. Your witness - you promised him something and he lied. But you were more willing to believe the word of a terrorist than to actually get proof before acting on assumptions."
"You know that time is of the essence, we had to find out what Tony knew. And he didn't provide me any reason to believe Ragen's men were lying. If he was innocent, why didn't he do anything to help himself?"
"Tony told you to check the surveillance tapes. You didn't. What else could he have done to help himself, tell me that? You didn't give him a chance."
At that moment, the door opens with a buzz. "Michelle." a woman calls her out of the room and Michelle leaves wordlessly, giving Hammond one final look of contempt. "What is it, Eileen?" Michelle asks, her tone a little brusque with the anger inside her.
"Lou Brass from District is here to pick up Mr. Hammond. What should I tell him?"
"Let him come in."
Michelle does not enter the interrogation room again. She waits outside, again taking deep breaths to calm herself down. It seems like she's got the hang of it by now. It's all right, Michelle, he'll be out in a minute and then you won't have to deal with him any more.
A couple of minutes later, Eileen comes back with Brass and three guards. Brass walks up to Michelle. "Ms Dessler."
"Mr. Brass." Michelle shakes his hand.
"Are you done with Brad Hammond? The paperwork should be in order, so that we can take him to Federal."
"Yes, he's all yours." she says, anticipating the moment Hammond would leave the building. She slides her key card through the slot and the door to the holding room obediently buzzes open, letting hem enter.
"Mr. Hammond, let's go, it's time." Brass tells him and two of the guards lift Hammond up by his arms. Making sure he is securely restrained, his hands cuffed in front of him, they take him in the middle between them and escort him out into the hallway.
Michelle stands back and lets the men pass, then walks behind them to the main office. All eyes are on them as they cross the floor and Hammond keeps his head low, now not quite as sure about himself as he was when they walked in the opposite direction. Memories are just such a hard thing to deal with and she is once again reminded of that when she realizes that she can't help but think of the time she saw Tony being led into CTU that fateful day, handcuffed, resigned, defeated.
She stops at the exit door, as Hammond and the guards leave the building and are joined by a fourth man, and she watches them enter a car. Hammond is placed in the back between two guards, the third one is in the passenger's seat and the last person who joined them outside gets in te driver's seat. The car drives off instantly and Michelle gives a loud sigh as they disappear from view. Brass, standing behind her, notices this but says nothing.
"Let's get him out of here." Heller says to Jason.
"Let's go." Jason picks up Pete from the floor and shoves him towards Heller, who opens up the restroom door and waits for Pete to walk through. When he does, the two men follow him.
They start moving down the hallway towards the offices again. While they walk, Heller digs his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. "I want you to watch him closely. I'll find Jack Bauer, get him to come here as soon as he can. But we have to find out who the targets are, and maybe CTU can stop them. But I'm not sure if we have enough time to wait for Jack, so keep talking to Pete, do you understand?" Heller says, looking at Jason.
"Yes, Sir. I'll try." Jason answers. "I'll do what I can."
"Jason. Break him." Heller says in a low voice, making a point of the last words.
No, you won't. Pete thinks to himself. Wiggling himself out of Jason's grip, he suddenly starts running.
"HEY!" Jason yells and reaches out to catch Pete, but he is a few inches too far behind. Heller, too, tries to catch up, but several moments later, Pete finds himself by an open window and, without slowing down, jumps out of it. "NO!" a shout is heard behind him, but it is too late. As Heller and Jason next look out of the window, Pete's body is sprawled awkwardly on the sidewalk, twelve stories below.
When reaching Michelle's office, Brass takes a seat in the chair opposite hers, in essence showing that she is still in charge. "So, am I correct to assume you still wish to step down?" he asks her neutrally.
Michelle nods and replies in the affirmative. "Yes. The crisis has obviously passed and the follow-up work can be handled by the staff. I need to be with Tony."
"You and your staff have done very well today, from what I understand. It is a shame to lose the most experienced case officer on duty at this point. You know that briefings are best done by those who handled the response. However, I understand your situation." he adds symphathetically.
"Thank you." she answers and pauses for a couple of seconds, then continues. "I'll still be in house in case you need any additional information, I just want to go down to the clinic and wait there."
"Okay. So, I assume you have all the most important files ready? I need to review those to familiarize myself with everything. And the staff know their duties at this point?" Brass continues.
"Yes, all the necessary information is in this folder," she hands it to him "and on the servers. As well as current working protocols and assignments for each member of the staff."
"Good. Do you have the access codes here?" he asks, while browsing the file.
"Yes." She reaches into a drawer. "Here you are."
"Thank you. Where are the security tapes from the compound? Do you have copies of them or has CTU provided you with the originals?"
"CTU still has the originals, but I've received a file with the relevant portions of the footage from Chloe O'Brien. It's on the server, along with the rest of the information. I assume you will want to read the statements made by Robert Louden and Brad Hammond as well. A copy of Louden's statement has been faxed to us and the original is being forwarded by Chloe. Rae Platchecky still has Brad's statement but I am sure she will get it to you as soon as possible. If you need anything else, Chloe will be happy to help you. Also, any furhter inquiries into Brad Hammond's s actions today should be addressed to Steve Sheldon or Knoll."
"Ok. I will review their statements first and see if there is need for further information. Hmmmm.." Brass concentrates momentary on the file in his hand, reading it. "It says here that they found a hidden body on the compound and that he was most likely killed by your husband." Looking up again, he continues: "That would support the evidence already suggesting that he wasn't working with them. Have they got any physical evidence to confirm that?"
"Well, there is nothing conclusive yet. They did find several hairs and epithelials on the man's body and clothing but that evidence still needs to be processed by Forensics. They need Tony's DNA to compare to that which has been found and I've sent a sample down to the lab. The actual analysis will take two days."
"I will see to those then."
"All right. This is all I need at this point." Brass says, placing the file on the table. " As far I'm concerned you can go down to the clinic. If there's anything further, I'll contact you."
"Okay." she stands and then says, "Thank you for doing this."
Transport vehicle to Federal
There is almost complete silence in the car. They're headed downtown, to the same Detention Center Hammond has been to earlier, when he talked to Louden, the same Detention Center he'd brought Tony to almost a year ago. Some justice. he sourly thinks and looks out of the window, at a world he guesses he won't be seeing for a while. They'll put you in prison for doing your job.
As Michelle is on her way down to the clinic, and about to turn off her cell phone, it rings. For a moment, she wonders if she should even answer it, but one glance at the caller ID helps her decide. She remains standing in the hallway just in front of the doors to the clinic, as she picks up. "Jack?"
"Hey, Michelle. How are you holding up?" Jack asks, his voice soft and concerned.
Before replying, Michelle leans on the wall behind her. "I..." she sighs. "I don't know, really. Right now, I'm just tired. And worried, worried to death. Afraid that he won't make it. Dreading the wait, the uncertainty."
Jack stops the car at yet another traffic light and hangs his head in thought while listening to her. He can imagine what she's going through and knows it's not easy. He doesn't interrupt her, though, wanting to give her an opportunity to talk, aware that having someone who'll listen is sometimes worth more than having to listen to someone.
"Jack, if you could have seen him..." she pauses. "He looked so fragile... Broken."
She says nothing for a few seconds, and the light turns to green, so Jack drives off again. "I'm so sorry, Michelle." he utters quietly. "I really hope Tony makes it. You know I do."
"Yeah..." she whispers, feeling a few tears rolling down her cheek. She had never seen Tony in such a state of mind before. She had never thought it was possible, after everything he'd endured in the past. "You know, Jack, I always wanted to believe Tony was invincible, unbreakable... I wanted him to be my white knight in armor, and he has been... But to see him like this, and to think it was all because of Hammond... I don't believe he'll ever be the same. And I keep blaming myself for not getting him out earlier, for not going over Hammond's head."
"Michelle..." Jack whispers, but she continues.
"Why did I wait that long? Tony... He could have died, had this taken any longer." She is unable to hold back a small sob as she finishes speaking.
"Michelle. You did everything in your power to save Tony and you did get him out. You have nothing to blame yourself for. What happens from now on is out of your control. But you know he's in good hands. You have to believe he'll make it." He pauses briefly, then adds: "I believe he'll make it."
There's silence on her end of the call again, as she sniffles and wipes away the tears from her cheeks, trying to regain her composure, knowing that Jack is right.
"Michelle, I'll be over as soon as I can." he tells her, knowing that solitude is the worst enemy in times like these. "Is there anything you need?"
She sniffles quietly again, "No... No, I'm fine, Jack." All I need is for Tony to get well again.
There's another sniff, then a long breath, followed by a brief: "Yeah. Thank you."
"All right, then. I'll see you soon."
"Ok." she agrees and slowly, thoughtfully, closes her phone, disconnecting the call.
CTU / Morgan's van
Chloe leaves her desk, taking the phone with her. She walks through the main office and into a hallway, glancing behind her as she gets there. It is clear she needs to make a private call. She glances up to check for cameras, and then turns away from them, and dials a number. Jack is still driving, and is about to make a turn towards the building where the DOD has temporarily settled in, when his phone rings. Seeing Chloe's number, he picks it up. "Bauer."
"Jack, it's Chloe." she says into the phone, her breathing audible on the other end. Her excited voice immediately lets Jack know that something isn't right.
"What's going on?" he questions.
"Louden's dead." she says simply.
"WHAT?!" Jack exclaims and stops the car abruptly on the side of the street, the DOD building in his view.
"He's dead." she repeats. "A neighbor heard noise at the door and called the police. LAPD found him in my sister's apartment. Someone slit his throat." she tells him.
"Son of a bitch!" he shouts, hitting the steering wheel with his fist.
Chloe looks around for a moment, then turns away from the cameras again, whispering. "Jack, you have to get here now. They're going to start asking questions, and I don't know how I can cover for you under these circumstances."
"I know." he utters. "How did they find him?" The question is rhetorical, but none the less justified.
"I don't know. But I need you here."
"Yeah, I'm on my way."
Chloe hangs up first and when Jack does, he makes a U-turn, the tires squealing as he begins to head back to CTU.
Back in Michelle's office, Brass is reading the statements of Louden and Hammond. Occasionally he turns to the computer, checking for updates or advisories. Did he really not check the validity of Louden's information? Even after it was clear there was surveillance? This is not going to look good in his hearing. Brass thinks. I'd better see those tapes myself.
He turns to the computer again, opening the first video file while picking up the phone. "This is Brass. Will you call CTU and ask them to send a full copy of the surveillance tapes?... Yes, yes. OK, thank you."
En route to CTU
While driving back, Jack keeps thinking. How did anyone know where I brought Louden to? Who leaked word? No-one knew except me and Chloe... Someone must have been watching us. Watching me, maybe. He stops at a traffic light, impatient, as always. Why would they want Louden killed? He was of no value to anyone but Hammond. Who profits from his death? He glances outside. The streets are crowded again, people on the sidewalk buzzing around like busy bees. A man wearing all black catches his eye and somehow, his mind digs out a memory from earlier and he presses his head against the headrest. Damn it, the mole at the DOD. I never got a chance to deal with that. Son of a bitch! Just before the light turns to green, he grabs the phone, but before he even starts to dial a number, it rings. Jack flips it open, "Bauer."
Heller is now standing next to Pete's dead body on the sidewalk outside the building. "Jack, this is Heller. Where are you?"
Jack is suddenly relieved. "Mr. Secretary. I'm on my way to CTU, Sir."
"Why?" Heller questions. "You were supposed to come here for the debrief hours ago, Jack. Besides, I need you here. I just identified a mole in our organization." he finishes and glances at Pete once again.
Good. "Yes, sir, I was just about to call you about that. May I ask who it was?" he replies, trying to avoid explaining his reasons for now.
"Pete Hanson." Heller replies, but then realizes. "You knew about this?"
"I knew there was a possibility, Sir, yes. But I couldn't mention it to anyone at the DOD, I didn't know who to trust. And I simply didn't get a chance to deal with it myself, Mr. Secretary, you know what this day has been."
"I understand that, Jack. You still should have told me. But, since we've got him now, I'm willing to look the other way. However, we have another problem. Hanson is dead, he killed himself. But before he was exposed, he had ordered an assassination. I haven't been able to find out who the target is, he wouldn't tell me."
At hearing this, Jack realizes something too. "Sir, there is something that I have to tell you." he starts, and Heller walks away from the other people outside with him, then speaks. "I'm listening."
"Robert Louden, the man who had made a statement against Tony Almeida earlier, he revoked his statement implicating Tony. I have it in writing." he starts, giving Heller the good news first.
"That's good." Heller replies, but senses that Jack has more to say.
"But now he's dead, too. Someone killed him and I think these deaths might be connected."
"What? How was that possible? I thought he was in custody?"
"He was..." Jack takes a breath before continuing. "Sir, I hate to say this, but I moved him from the Detention Center in order to talk to him. There was no way I could have known he was someone's target." he adds, attempting to justify himself.
Heller didn't even hear Jack's last sentence. "Jack, I gave you a specific order not to move the man! Are you telling me we lost a key witness because of your actions?"
"Sir, with all due respect, Louden was not a key witness. He had fabricated a story implying Tony Almeida in the plan because he wanted revenge. He had seen the two of us at the compound earlier and figured we were working together. He lied to Brad Hammond and he admitted to that. And Mr. Secretary, I am certain that whoever killed Louden, they would have gotten to him even within the prison walls. Their organization was just too good. If they wanted him dead, they would have killed him, no matter how well we protected him."
"You don't know that, Jack!" Heller raises his voice, beginning to walk.
"No, Sir, but it's my feeling."
"Jack, I appreciate the work you have done for us, I really do, but this is not over, I promise you. Disobeying my direct order is inexcusable."
"Yes, Sir. I'm sorry, Sir." I know that, I just had no choice, that's all.
There's silence on the other end, and judging by his breathing, it is clear Heller is trying to calm himself. Jack isn't surprised by Heller's reaction, after all, he knew he was going down a slippery road when he decided to move Louden. "Mr. Secretary, if I may..." he starts, and waits for a reply from Heller, but as there is none, he just continues. "I do not believe that Louden was the primary target. He was not important enough. He knew nothing about Hanson's involvement in this plan, I am certain of it. Sir, my instinct tells me Louden must have been a decoy, someone else is meant to be hit."
"Who?" is all that Heller manages to utter.
"I don't know yet, but I assume that anyone who was deeply involved in this operation is a possible target. Which includes me, but also you, Sir. I suggest you take the necessary precautions."
"They won't be targetting me, Jack. As Pete called the hit, he didn't know he had been exposed. His aim was to keep his cover intact, not to draw attention."
Jack nods to himself, somewhat relieved. "Good. Then it leaves four or five possibilities. This information needs to be relayed to CTU immediately, along with the details from Pete's cell phone. Which number he used, whom he called. They might be able to dig out something."
"I'll tell Audrey to do it."
"Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Sir, I am requesting your permission to go to CTU and try to help, then I'll resign if you want me to."
"Permission granted. But I want you back here as soon as you're done." Heller replies, still angry, not wanting to say anything about the consequences just yet.
"Yes, Sir. Thank you."
"Don't thank me, Jack. Just get back here." Heller hangs up.
As the call ends, Jack mentally starts going over the list of possible targets. Who was involved? Tony; but he's in surgery now, unlikely they could get to him. Me, we'll see. Michelle, I don't think so. Although, I did tell her to look into the DOD matter. She could be a target. But she's protected at Division, I don't think they'd try to get to her. Who is exposed right now?
Suddenly, he seems to remember something and grabs his phone again.
Transport vehicle to Federal
Hammond is still looking out the window, when a sudden sound like an explosion interrupts the silence. The car starts to swerve, the driver does his best to try and regain control of the vehicle. "What the hell was that?" the man in the passenger's seat shouts as he tries to get a hold of something. "No idea, a busted tire, I guess." the driver shouts back. The car continues to move, out of control, for a few moments, but soon, the ride ends in a tree, the car frontally hitting it.
Chloe is on the phone with Jack and Steve from Division at the same time. "I know, Steve, just try to reach them!"
"Chloe, where are they?" Jack, impatient, utters. "Come on, I don't have time to wait!"
"Hold on, Jack. Steve is trying to reach them. They should be close to the Detention Center now. I'm pulling up sat frames."
"Come on, come on, come on." Jack says while accelerating towards Downtown L.A.
"Alright, Jack, I've got them. They're just about four blocks away, but hold on. There must have been an accident. The car hit a tree."
"What?" Jack asks incredulously. Too much of a coincidence.
"Hold on, Jack." Chloe says. "Steve, can you reach them?"
"No. I'm not getting anything. The radio must be out."
"Jack, we can't get through." Chloe informs him. "They could be dead."
"Send rescue in, now." Jack orders. "I'm still twenty minutes away."
"Okay, I'm on it."
The two guards in the front were instantly killed. In the back, Hammond and the guard next to him appear to be breathing. Several seconds later, Hammond slowly lifts his head. He moans as he comes out of his momentary daze, realizing what happened. Since there is a moist sensation above his eye and he assumes he's bleeding, he brings his cuffed hands up to his brow, touching it. The red smear on his fingertips confirms his assumption.
Taking a look at the front of the car, he sees blood everywhere, the windshield smashed in, cutting the driver and his partner. The airbags had been deployed, but the front of the car was too badly crushed for the airbags to save their lives. He then looks to his left, and the man next to him, Howard, wakes up at the same moment. "Is everyone all right?" he asks as he looks around.
He gets no response from the front of the car. Looking to his right, he sees the other guard starting to stir, apparently unconscious.
Trying to move his legs, Hammond lets out a shout. Oh God, I think my thigh is broken. Damn this hurts. "Those in the front are dead." he tells Howard.
"Yeah." Howard looks at them, briefly, nodding. "You okay?"
Hammond moans softly. "I think my thigh is broken. I can't move. Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine." Howard says, but then pulls out his gun and continues: "Which is bad luck for you." he tells a shocked Hammond, as he shoots the guard to Hammond's right.
"What the hell are you doing?" Hammond shouts.
"Shut up." Howard utters, then breaks out the window and opens the door from the outside. Stepping out, he points his weapon at Brad and orders him: "Get out of the car."
"Who are you? You're not a guard, are you?"
"I'm acting as a replacement." he offers an explanation, making it clear he had taken out of play the actual guard. "Now come out here."
"I told you, I can't. My leg is pinned by the seat."
"Come on. Pull yourself out. Or you die right there."
"What the hell is going on?" Chloe utters, her satellite coverage showing her a man who is pointing a weapon at the back of the car. She contacts Jack again. "Jack, better get there fast. Apparently there are at least two survivors, but something's not right. One of the guards is aiming at someone inside the car. I can't see who it is."
"I can't get there any faster, dammit. Where's the ambulance?"
"They'll be there soon, but this may be a too dangerous situation for them to walk into."
"I agree. Inform them, tell them to wait."
He wants me for something, otherwise he would've already killed me. Staring at the guard outside the car, Hammond painfully pulls his leg underneath the seat, using his hands for help as best as possible. He groans in pain as his leg moves, but when it's free, he slowly crawls out. He falls to the asphalt, screaming as his leg makes contact. Howard stands there, looking at him quietly. Gasping to regain his breath, as he hoists himself up against the car, Hammond stares at Howard, asking: "What do you want?"
At this moment a bullet whistles from nowhere and Howard, hit in the forehead, slumps to the ground.
Agonized and unable to run away, Hammond looks around to see where it came from, looking for the sniper, when, mere seconds later, another bullet flies towards him and this one hits him in the stomach.
Hammond doesn't feel anything for a couple of seconds from the shock, but after that the fiery pain hits him. Grabbing his stomach in anguish, placing his hands on the wound, he feels the sticky blood from the gaping wound flowing through his fingers. He gasps in pain as the feeling spreads. This is bad.
Looking down at the wound he can actually see his intestines coming out of it. He stands there, fighting against his shivering knees to stay upright, but after a while, he loses the battle ant falls onto his knees. He looks around in fear, looking for a sign of the sniper or someone he could call for help. But the street is small and seems deserted or his eyes are too blurry to recognize anything, he can't really tell.
"Help." he calls out weakly, but his voice is lost in the usual background noise of the city. "Someone, help me... please."
He feels his trousers getting heavy with the blood soaking them and it is then that panic grips him with its cold fingers. God, I'm going to die. I'm going to die.
Michelle is nervously pacing the length of the waiting room, unable to sit still. In her hand is a cup of coffee, but she doesn't need to sip it to stay alert or awake. With the fear and worry inside her making her feel like she's going to freeze to death from inside out, right now, the styrofoam cup only serves to warm her hands.
Audrey looks at her watch, somewhat nervously. "Jack should have been here by now." she mutters to herself. She picks up her phone, and dials her father's cell phone number. Not having seen him for a while, she assumes he is not in his office. "Hi, it's Audrey... Uhm, have you heard from Jack lately?"
"I have. He was supposed to come here, but now he's on his way to CTU." Heller says neutrally, having worked on controlling his anger.
"Oh, okay, thanks." she answers, but then hears street noise. "Where are you?"
"I'm outside, west side of the building." He glances at the dead body on the sidewalk. "Pete Hanson died."
"What? How?" Audrey asks, shocked.
"It's a long story... We'll talk later, okay?"
She nods, puzzled. "Okay. Thank you."
As they hang up, she gets up from her chair, shuts down her computer, grabs her purse and leaves her office. If Jack can't come here, he might need me there. she thinks. And Pete killed himself for a reason, maybe the threat hasn't really passed yet.
Hammond perceived a faint bang from somewhere - for a split second he wasn't sure if he had really heard it or if his mind was playing tricks on him, but then he suddenly felt sort of like back in college, when the school's best pitcher had sent a baseball straight into his chest, only a million times worse. The projectile pierced his lung and exited at his back. When the bullet left his body, Hammond thought he could actually sense the cold air rushing through his wound before it was quickly filled with blood and tissue. Weakly, unable to support himself, he now completely sacks onto the asphalt, falling to his side.
Noticing that he can't draw a single breath in this position, he forces himself to roll over to his back, his body screaming for repose. His breathing more and more turns shallow, blood bubbling with every painful breath he takes, and as the minutes pass, he is more and more aware of the slow death awaiting him if no-one helps him.
Chloe sees him fall to the ground, and instantly speaks to Jack. "Jack, a sniper just shot Hammond. I can't see if he's still alive but no-one is moving. It doesn't seem like there's anyone out there."
"Send the medical team in NOW! But tell them to be careful and get out of there as soon as possible!"
"Aren't they still in danger if there's a sniper on the roof?"
"They might be, but if Hammond was the target, then the shooter won't stick around to kill a medical team. It's a chance we have to take."
Or they, you mean. she thinks, but does as she's told.
Having left the DOD building, Audrey is now on her way to CTU. Taking care to drive within the speed limit, not wanting to draw attention to herself, not wanting anyone to delay her unnecessarily, she is finding her way through the traffic, the backroads, the city jungle. She has never been to CTU before, but now she is curious to see the place that Jack left, or rather, was forced to leave before fate brought the two of them together.
She has refreshed her make up, gotten ready and excited to see Jack again. Even though it's been mere hours since they last met, this day, the past 24 hours, have for some reason felt much longer than a single day; they were more like a month, maybe even more than that. So much has happened, there were moments in which she was scared, or at least uncomfortable, knowing he was out there, unprotected, on his own and that there was nothing she could do to help. That last fact was what bothered her the most through all that happened. She was used to being the independent, skilled helper, usually not the one needing help, but getting through for everyone else. It was the sitting in her father's office, waiting to find out if Jack had been rescued that made her feel utterly helpless, at the mercy of some unknown powers, and she hated that feeling.
Now, seeing that he still might need help, she decided that it was high time to see if she could be of use. Of course, she could have stayed at the DOD and helped there, but if Jack was going to be at CTU, she figured that's where she ought to be, too. She just longed to see him, to see with her own eyes that he indeed is okay. She glances at her phone, wondering if she should call him but decides against it. If he's dealing with a crisis still, he can't use her distracting him, and, knowing him, she guesses he wouldn't approve of her going there at this point anyway. It was her decision to try and help, but inwardly, she was already anticipating the moment they would both leave CTU behind again, and go back to the world in which they belonged together.
An ambulance vehicle approaches from a distance, its sirene announcing the urgency. The medics dismount the vehicle as they identify the scene of the accident and first go to the car wreck in the tree trunk. They first check to see if the men inside are alive, then one of the medics notices two more figures on the asphalt closeby. "Will, over here!" he calls to his colleague and the two of them approach Hammond and Howard.
The sight of the two bodies alone leaves no doubt, but the medics check their vital signs anyway. "Al, let CTU know." Will says seconds later.
"Jack." Chloe contacts him. "Hammond is dead. So is everyone who was with him."
"Son of a bitch!" he shouts but continues driving downtown. "Look, Chloe, I'm still gonna go there. I might still find them."
"Jack, there's nothing you can do. By the time you get there, they'll be long gone. I need you here. Erin is about to find out and when she does, she won't hesitate to take me out of play, you know that."
Jack thinks for a couple of seconds. Chloe is right. As little as he wants to admit it. "Fine. I'm coming to CTU. But you stay on top of this. Use the sat footage, you might pick up something. I'll see you in a couple of minutes, I'm almost there."
"Okay. Thanks, Jack."
Jack hangs up and throws the phone to the seat next to him, turning into a side street. He's already in the vicinity of CTU.
Audrey stops at a traffic light and glances outside, over her shoulder. A second later, she returns her attention to the traffic light, slightly shaking her head. You're becoming paranoid, Audrey. she thinks to herself. / Dr. Burke and the team around him can be seen working on Tony, the surgery is still ongoing. Tony's rhythmic breathing is monitored closely and supported by the machines. / Michelle sets the coffee cup onto a small, round, glass table in the waiting room and crosses her arms, only to start rubbing her upper arms with her hands seconds later, as if she were freezing. / Jack arrives at CTU, this time driving onto the parking lot outside the building rather than entering the underground garage. / Heller is going back inside the building, followed by his bodyguards and some other people. Before heading to his office, he knocks on door of Audrey's, calling her name as he opens it. There is a somewhat puzzled look on his face as he finds the room empty, but he closes it again and enters his office seconds later.
Jack leaves the van unlocked, what the hell, it's not his anyway, and starts heading towards the building. All he wants right now is to find whoever was working with Pete Hanson. Hammond surely wasn't his favorite person in the world, and it would have been just if he had been tried and sentenced, but that didn't mean an assassin could be allowed to walk around freely, possibly endangering other people's lives.
As he walks, it seems like he can hear a second pair of footsteps behind him and his muscles sudenly become tense, expecting trouble. Sure enough, within seconds, someone attempts to grab him from behind. Jack grabs the man's arm, gripping it firmly and turns around to face him, just in time to see a long blade in the man's other hand. With a few skilled moves, Jack disarms him, sticks the knife into the man's heart and drops the attacker's body to the asphalt in front of him.
He pulls his weapon, looking around to see if there's anyone else looking for trouble, and, seeing no-one, heads toward the CTU building. The security guard, having seen the scene on his screen, appears at the door, his weapon ready. "Mr. Bauer, you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Jack replies. "I need to know who he is. I need you to keep an eye on the body. I'll get someone from upstairs to ID him."
"Come on, let's get him inside." Together, they grab the man by his feet, dragging him towards the building. Jack uses his right arm for this, while keeping his weapon ready in his left hand, not really wanting to put a strain on his injured arm, especially after having to fight using it. Only when the body is inside the building does Jack holster the weapon again.
A woman wearing green scrubs comes through the two doors that lead to the clinic, entering the hallway. She stops for a moment, looks around, then enters the waiting area and sees Michelle standing by a wall, staring at the floor in front of her, the coffee cup in her hand again, although the coffee is cold by now.
Michelle, snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of the doors, immediately lifts her head, setting the cup away and even while she's walking towards the woman, she speaks up: "How is he doing?"
Seeing the worry in Michelle's eyes, the woman, a nurse, takes a breath and then speaks: "I'm afraid it looks very serious right now. What the doctors have found so far is that, in addition to blood loss, your husband has a rupture in his spleen which was apparently caused by one of his broken ribs. Some of the stitches from the earlier gunshot wound have also opened. They haven't been able to examine him fully yet, they need to staunch the worst bleeding first."
Michelle swallows a gulp in her throat before she is able to speak. "Please tell me he'll live." she then asks pleadingly.
"I wish I could tell you that, Mrs. Almeida" she answers symphathetically, "but right now it's simply too early to say. We are doing all that we can for him." She pauses. "Is there anyone we could contact for you?"
While the nurse was speaking to her, Michelle started to nervously rub her hands. As silence falls again, she seems to realize it and instead crosses her arms, wanting to keep her hands steady. She appears to be thinking for a few seconds, but in reality, she is only fighting hard against herself to keep her composure. "Uhm... No. No, thank you." she finally utters. She wouldn't want to worry Tony's parents, she will call them when Tony is out of surgery to tell him they can visit. At least, that's her hope and for now, that hope alone seems to be giving her strength. "Assuming he makes it," she starts, because she inwardly needs to assume it, "how long will it take him to recover? Can you tell me that?"
"All that depends on the severity of his injuries. Weeks, could be a couple of months. Dr. Burke should be able to give you a better idea after the surgery is over. I really can't tell you more at this point."
Michelle nods absent-mindedly. "I understand. Thank you."
The nurse touches Michelle's arm with her hand, as if to give her strength. "I have to go back now. Dr. Burke just wanted me to give you an update. I'm sorry."
"Thank you. I'll be waiting here." she replies. The nurse looks at Michelle for another second or two, then turns around and walks out of the waiting room.
"Chloe!" Jack calls out softly to her as he enters the offices and approaches her desk. She instantly stands, walking towards him. "Hey, Jack." she greets him as they meet.
"Chloe, there's a dead man downstairs by the entrance door. He tried to kill me." Jack starts, not wasting time. "I've got the security guard watching the body. I need you to send someone to ID the man, find his car, see if he's the shooter we're looking for, okay?"
"Yeah, hold on." Chloe returns to her station, sending someone downstairs. Jack sits down in a chair by Chloe's desk, putting his head in his hands; after a few seconds, he starts rubbing his eyes with his fingers tiredly, while she's making the phonecall.
Alone again, Michelle throws the cold coffee into a bin, and sits down in one of the plastic chairs. Sitting there in silence, her mind only now really begins to process the words she's just heard. 'Very serious... Ruptured spleen... I wish I could tell you that... I'm sorry...' When the nurse left, Michelle felt like hope itself was walking out through the glass doors with her and an overwhelming urge to cry came up inside her. But Michelle decided to fight it. Why cry when Tony is alive and there is still a chance he'll make it? Tony would be the first to say, 'As long as there's a chance, don't go there.'
She sighs, and only now notices that she had developed a bad headache during the past hour. She closes her eyes, massaging her temples, trying to make it go away.
"I sent two people from the lab down there, they should hopefully be able to tell us who he is soon. They'll let us know if they find his vehicle, too."
"Okay, good. Thanks, Chloe." Jack says sincerely, lifting his head again.
"What do you want to do next?"
"Until we know more, we can't do anything. I just hope we've got the assassin and that this day can finally end." he says, his hands running over his face, through his hair, then stopping at the back of his neck. He lets his head fall back for a second while taking a deep breath, his eyes closed.
"Yeah. Me too." she admits, then adds. "This sure was another one of those days..."
Yeah it surely was. God knows I could do without them at some point. Jack lifts his head again, taking a breath as he sits up. He needs to talk to Chloe, but glances around for a moment and decides the office is too crowded. Standing up, he touches Chloe's forearm, and takes her aside, leading her to a hallway, away from other people's ears.
"Audrey is on her way here." she starts, as they are there.
Jack nods. "Good, I need to talk to her anyway." Another glance towards the office, and then he speaks. "Look, about Louden..."
"Did you tell Heller?" Chloe interrupts, and as she finishes speaking, she glances away, as if to see if anyone heard her.
Jack does the same before replying: "Yeah."
"How'd he take it?" she whispers.
Jack lets out a small breath. "I think I lost my job."
Chloe nods as if she were expecting this. "I'm sorry, Jack." She pauses just for a second, then asks. "Can I help?"
"No." Jack says decisively, shaking his head, then takes her by her arm again, leading her even deeper into the hallway. "Chloe, listen to me. All you did is give me the key to your sister's apartment, you didn't know what I was going to do. And if anyone saw us go there together, you didn't know who the man with me was, okay?"
"No, Jack -" she starts, not wanting to lie and let him take the blame, just so she could save herself.
"Yes, Chloe, please. CTU needs you here and you need the job. I'm just trying to help you keep it."
"I'll be fine, Jack. You don't have to do this."
"I want to." he pauses. "I disregarded a direct order from the Secretary of Defense. I kidnapped a suspect right out of a Federal Detention Center. I forced a statement out of him and now he's dead. That doesn't look good. Trust me, that's not something you want on your record or getting fired from CTU won't be your only problem." he tells her, looking her in the eye. After a couple of seconds, he adds. "You'll have trouble finding another job, especially with the government."
She looks back at him for a few moments, thinking, then sighs. "You're right." she admits. "Driscoll is just waiting for something like this to fire me." she sighs. "But it still doesn't feel right. I mean, what are you going to do? You want a government job as much as I do. Frankly, I don't see you selling veggies in a store, Jack."
Jack grins at her comment. "I'll be okay... It was my responsibility and my decision. You're better off here at CTU."
Chloe returns the smile for an instant, then nods. "Alright, fine... Thanks."
Jack keeps eye contact for another second or two, making sure she means it. Then he takes a step towards the main office again. "Ok, when's Audrey coming?"
"She should be here in five minutes, tops."
"Great." he smiles, offering his hand. "Thanks, Chloe. For all your help."
She shakes his hand. "Yeah."
"Mr. Bauer!" someone calls out to Jack and he walks past Chloe, back to the desks and to a young man he'd never seen before. "Yeah?"
"LAPD located an SUV in the vicinity. By the looks of it, it belonged to the man you took out. In the back was a Remington sniper rifle, along with .308 ammunition. We also recovered a cell phone , it appears that the last call he received was from the number Pete Hanson from the Department of Defense used."
"Looks like this is our guy." Jack utters to Chloe, who has joined them, too. "Anything else?"
"Well, from what we have, it looks like he was working alone, all leads end there, but we'll look into it further."
"Good. Thanks. Stay on it." Jack points a finger at the man as he says this. Finally, this could be the end of it.
"Jack!" Chloe now calls out to him, phone in her hand.
He turns to her. "Yeah?"
"Security wants me to let you know Audrey Raines just got here. She's waiting in the small conference room."
"You're welcome." she replies and hangs up the phone.
Jack takes a quick glance around, locates the conference room and through the glass panel, he recognizes Audrey. A slight smile touches the corners of his mouth, and the look in his eyes softens as she turns around and their eyes lock. As she sees him, she smiles to him in return. Jack's face soon turns half serious again; he gives Chloe a meaningful glance, and walks past her and through the office, not rushing too obviously, but not stopping until he reaches the door. While he is approaching, the light in the room suddenly changes, making it look dark from the outside. Jack casts a glance at Chloe, who is at her computer, looking innocent, yet he understands it could only have been her, giving him some privacy. Thanks. he thinks.
His palms are sweaty with anticipation as he touches the metal door handle to push the door open. When he finally enters, Audrey walks to him, speaking his name, and the two of them hug tightly, with great relief. Their eyes are closed, bodies in close contact, although Jack presses his eyes shut and grits his teeth together at the pain this much needed embrace causes on his tortured chest and stomach. Ateempting to distract himself, he tries to concentrate on trying to feel her soft skin underneath her blouse. They stay like this for a while, just taking it in, the presence of the other, the closeness, both of them feeling thankful to even be there, together.
After the initial relief, Audrey realizes that she can feel a thick bandage underneath Jack's sweatshirt on his left arm, but before she can say anything, he pulls back, cupping her face to look at her, as if to make sure he's really been given a chance again, a chance to make things right. His thumbs gently trace her cheekbones, his eyes lovingly looking at her soft features and her smile. Everything he's been through in the past 24 hours, every dangerous mission he'd come back from in the past years, so many things could have cost him his life, and it is at this very moment, having come out alive from it all, that Jack realizes something: he was finally letting someone into his heart again. Though a part of him died together with Teri and bitterness and delusion ruled his soul ever since, right now, standing in the darkened conference room at CTU, waiting and wanting to taste Audrey's lips, he feels as if he just came back from the dead - and someone was waiting for him.
"I missed you..." he whispers very lowly, tilting his head to the side slowly, reducing the distance between their faces, inch by inch. I was ready to die. I was expecting to die. But I'm so glad to be here with you right now. Jack closes his eyes, his lips now close enough to feel the warmth coming from hers, and starts kissing her. She longingly returns the kisses, closing her eyes, leading her hands down his back and up again, letting them rest on his neck as she pulls him even closer, deepening the kiss.
I'm going to go crazy just sitting here for hours. Michelle thinks, standing up from the chair with a sigh. I need an Advil. She knows she has some in her drawer up in the office but right now, no headache in the world is strong enough to make her leave the clinic; she could call someone to get it for her, yet it seems so unimportant to bother anyone with it that she decides against it. As usual, she didn't drink enough today; the headache might simply come from that or the fatigue, so she walks out into the hallway to at least get some water from the dispenser.
She fills a plastic cup, yet the water is so cool that she immediately starts feeling cold again and lets go of it, her thirst gone. Yet feeling this cold is enough for her sense of touch to somehow make a connection with a memory, the moment in the holding cell when she touched Tony's arm and he pulled it away. Chills take over her body again, she can feel the skin on her back crawl, goose bumps everywhere for a moment. She pulls her jacket on more tightly, crossing her arms at her chest, her eyes falling at a dark spot on the floor. Ready to let anything distract her thoughts, she squats next to it to look at it more closely. She instantly regrets her decision since the spot turns out to be a fresh drop of blood. Tony's blood. she realizes, dipping her finger in it.
The smeared drop on the floor is suddenly joined by another drop, this one clear and watery, then another, just like the first, and yet another. Michelle kneels next to the drop, then sits there, her legs failing her. Tears are now flowing freely and quietly down her face and neck, more teardrops making it all the way down to the floor. She lifts her hand from the floor, making a fist as if wanting to preserve the red smear on her index finger, and puts her other palm around the fist. In the quiet and solitude of the clinic, she finally gives in to the pressure and the pain of the day, to the fear, the uncertainty, the terror and regret. It is as if someone opened a valve inside her and everything is rushing to the surface now, every grain of emotion accompanied by dozens of teardrops, all of which are competing to flow and mix with the ones already on the tiled floor.
Audrey breaks the kiss, pulling away from Jack, leading her hands down his neck and shoulders. Before she can touch the bandage on his arm, he takes her gently by the wrists.
She remembers the bandage she had felt through his sweatshirt as he walked in. "Want to tell me what happened?" She asks him, a little breathless.
He shakes his head. "Not particularly." I can't prevent you from finding out the moment you see what all this looks like, but I'm not going to ruin this moment. Another quick kiss, then he whispers, "Come on, let's go."
Anywhere, as long as this day finally ends. He puts his right arm around her and she smiles at him, leaning into his embrace.
Jack pauses a second before beginning to walk to the door, opening it, and replying, "Just out of here."
10:59:57 --- 10:59:58 --- 10:59:59 --- 11:00:00