The Finish Line

He's running, running faster than he has in months, and this is all familiar but he can't remember the last time it felt like this. Like he's suffocating with every step. Like every breath he takes is a signature on someone else's death warrant. His mind is in overload and his body's lagging behind, and all he can think is he doesn't remember this place being so damn small.

The glass doors are hollow, weightless, and he feels his stomach lurch and fall behind him as he catches sight of the body sprawled across the cold floor.


He's running again, running and falling and kneeling all at once, leaning over the prone form with his heart somewhere between his mouth and his stomach.

"Tony? Tony?"

Tony blinks, gasps for air, and Jack's mind rewinds, his eyes sliding to the needle clutched in Tony's fist. Empty.

"I-I couldn't do it."

Oh, God.

He swallows, choking down panic. Forces his voice to be low and steady and soothing, even as his insides are knotting with dread and the room's starting to spin around him.

"It's alright. It's alright."

He's not sure which of them he's trying to reassure. He's vaguely aware that this is time they don't have to spare, that his mind should be elsewhere, that Henderson is loose and armed and probably still in the building. Somehow at this moment, nothing has ever mattered less.

He lifts Tony carefully into his arms, cradling his head, holding him gently like something frail and broken and cherished, and oh God this cannot be happening here again, not now, not him, not like this.

Not Tony.

"You stay with me. Stay with me."

Voice cracking, he turns his head blindly, yells for help. Somebody. Anything. Tony's head lolls heavily against his shoulder, his body limp. Too limp.

"No. No."

Shaking his head in resolute denial he clutches Tony's face, forcing their eyes to meet and praying for anything that looks like hope.

The gaze is vague and unfocused and there is nothing left of the fire Jack remembers there, nothing left but defeat and despair and acceptance, and it hits him then that Tony, brave, wounded, passionate soul whose only crime has ever been thinking too much with his heart, is not fighting this.

Oh, God. Please.

"Hang on. Hang on."

Voice gravely with desperation, he doesn't know if he's giving Tony an order or pleading with him to hold on just a few more seconds, help's coming, and Tony's face flickers with something like love as he looks at Jack with hopeless eyes.

"She's gone, Jack."

The words hit him like a cold lead weight, and he can't talk any more.


Tony's breath hitches, falters, and Jack rocks him mechanically, fingers clutching at sweat-soaked cloth as he feels something hollow and helpless and final forcing its way up his throat, and he chokes on the realisation that Tony is dying, that he will die here today only because he loved two people too much, enough to risk everything for them. Protecting Michelle once had cost him his freedom and his career. But it's protecting Jack for all those months that has finally cost him his life.

His chest constricts as he watches Tony's eyes close for the last time, and he clings to him blindly, desperately, crushing him against his chest, closer and closer as though if he holds him tight enough he can make all of this stop.

And he thinks to himself that the world has never deserved men as good as Tony Almeida. This is a world of monsters, a world made for men like Henderson, a world where men like Tony and David Palmer will suffer and struggle until the world finally defeats them and it's only the monsters who remain; the monsters and himself. The monsters, and Jack Bauer. They will outlive everyone; the men with no ties and no limits, men who fight for a cause beyond all reason until they're too tired and too jaded to remember why.

The fact that his own cause is a good one, a noble one, doesn't seem to matter half as much as it used to. It has never changed anything; not the fact that Teri died because he failed her or that his own daughter can't look him in the eye any more or that good people have died today in his name. It won't change the fact that the only man he's ever loved is lying prone in his arms with empty eyes and veins full of poison.

He's dimly aware that the room is no longer silent; there are voices and footsteps and hands on him, on both of them, trying to force them apart. He tightens his grip on Tony and shudders convulsively, eyes screwed shut as he sobs brokenly into an unresponsive shoulder. The clock is still ticking but here in this room, time has stopped. He's frozen in this moment and there is nobody here but them, nothing else exists, and so long as it stays that way he can almost convince himself that the broken body he clutches like a lifeline is still drawing breath.

He can't think about what happens when time starts again.