Alive chapter four

The rise of the early morning sun awoke Chloe from her deep sleep, her mind & body still exhausted from the night before.

Just what did happen the night before? It was all a blur to her as she stumbled out of bed, as usual unable to think until consuming her daily truckload of caffeine. Too tired to find her slippers, she walked barefoot to her kitchen to start her coffee pot. This was a routine she'd been stuck in for years. But something was very different about today.

She remembered what made it so different when she walked a few steps inside her bathroom only to be stopped dead in her tracks by what she saw lying on the floor. "My God," she whispered to herself out loud, realizing Jack Bauer's hair was still lying on the floor from when she cut it.

Then she remembered the kiss. She remembered every painfully short second of it.

Chloe had dealt with morning afters before, but this was in a class all by itself. There was no rule book on how to deal with the fact that she had just made out with a longtime interest who was supposed to be dead, which was hardly where the awkwardness began. She had to then go to work in the building where he had "died", and work with people who were still mourning him. It was then that she thought about Kim and Audrey and suddenly felt guilty. Why didn't he put one of them in her place, why didn't he choose his daughter or so-called lover to be his last remaining connection to his identity? They had been his life, not Chloe. What got her into this tediously secretive position?

Of course it was circumstance, starting that day at CTU when President Palmer had called Jack to warn him of the danger he was in. But Audrey was there, too. Still, Jack called on Chloe, Tony, and Michelle to help him survive. He allowed Audrey to think she'd lost two loves that day.

Chloe hadn't considered that angle until then. It wasn't a comforting thought, either. She realized how insensitive her actions the night before could be construed.

This was too much to think about now. She was still coming down from the high the kiss brought to her, and right now, regret was not something she would allow herself to consider.

But her way of dealing with such things was to buck up, get to work and drown it all in computer screens. So that's exactly what she did.

"Edgar, I need you to monitor satellite over highway marker 14 for the next two hours for me," Chloe barked from her station, eyes glued to her screen.

"I'm a little busy right now, Chloe, can't you do it yourself?" Edgar barked back, realizing the day's barking had commenced.

"No, Edgar, if I could, I wouldn't have asked you. I know better than to ask you to do something helpful," she seethed, still not acknowledging him.

Just then, Bill Buchanan approached her station, forcing her to look up for the first time in an hour. "Chloe, Audrey's flying in from DC in a bit. When she gets here I want you to bring her up to speed and get her started."

Her eyes nearly tumbled out of their sockets. "Started doing what?"

"She's going to be working here for awhile as DOD liaison. Here's everything you'll need," he replied, handing her a stack of documents.

"Sir, are you sure-"

"Do it, Chloe," he barked, walking away.

This must be karma, she thought to herself. I am a horrible person. Thanks, God, for pointing that out yet again.

When Audrey's thin outline became visible from her work station, Chloe briefly considered hiding under her desk before she remembered that she wasn't a coward. Sometimes, though, she wanted to be.

But instead she took a deep breath and stood from her desk, walking to meet Ms. Raines a few yards away. "Audrey," she smiled, wondering if smiling was too much. Then she told herself to stop thinking.

"Chloe," Audrey smiled back, reaching out her right hand. "Good to see you."

Chloe calmly shook her hand. "You too. How's your father?"

"He's great, thank you," she replied. "How are you?"

"I'm fine," she shrugged. "Follow me, I'll show you to your station."

Audrey nodded and walked behind her, taking in her familiar surroundings. At first she had refused the job, but her father had convinced her that it would be a good exercise in closure. It didn't stop her from trembling when she first entered the building, or now from gazing down the corridor that led to the medical wing where Paul had died, which also led to sector C where Jack had "died". The fact that she could even walk past reflected her progress on the road to acceptance.

"Here you go," Chloe said, handing her a stack of papers. "I've got you all set up, all you need to do is pick a password."

Audrey sat down behind her new station and continued to gaze forward. "Thank you, Chloe."

Chloe paused, telling herself to just walk away. She didn't. "Are you okay?"

Audrey's eyes snapped back into focus. "Yeah, I'm fine," she replied. "It's just...this place, you know."

Chloe nodded. "I'm surprised you agreed to this. I mean, every day coming to work in the place that both your husband and Jack died..."

Audrey looked away, prompting Chloe to kick herself. "I'm sorry. You don't need me to remind you of that."

"It's okay, Chloe. I know it's not easy for you either. But Jack valued you a lot, he told me himself. He wouldn't want either of us to let this hold us back," Audrey replied. "That's what I'm telling myself, anyway."

He told Audrey herself? Told her what?? Chloe's mind screamed. "Yeah...listen, I've gotta get back to work. Call if you need anything," she expertly segued into a quick escape.

Audrey nodded. "Thanks."

Just as Chloe was settled safely behind her screens, her cell phone rang. Without averting her eyes, she grabbed & flipped open the phone. "Hello."

"Chloe, it's me. Can you talk?"

She nearly dropped her phone at he sound of Jack's voice. "What the hell are you - my God, I'm at CTU, Jack," she whispered. "Hold on, let me go somewhere safe."

"Edgar, cover for me," she shouted before heading to the parking garage. She walked - nay, ran - until she reached her car.

"What's wrong?" she asked as soon as she closed her car door.

"Nothing, nothing happened. I'm fine," he replied. "That's not why I'm calling."

Chloe stayed silent, knowing exactly why he was calling.

"After I left last night I just..."

"Jack, you don't have to do this. Please, spare us both," she interrupted.

"Let me finish," he said, somewhat annoyed. "I wanted to thank you."

She stared ahead, those being the last words she expected him to say.

"I shouldn't have left the way I did. It was just a shock, and I knew nothing could come of it in the long run, so I took the safe way out. But the truth is, Chloe, that I had forgotten what it felt like to be close to someone, and it felt so good that it terrified me."

They both took deep breaths, absorbing his words.

"I honestly thought it had been a year," he continued. "These four months have been crippling in every way. I was close to giving up for good a few days ago. And trust me, I don't like admitting that."

"Jack, what does this mean?" she asked, craving a bottom line.

"I'm still dead. That isn't going to change, we both know it. I could be selfish and take advantage of your feelings, but I care about you too much to let you waste your time and thoughts on me. I'm not asking you to pretend last night didn't happen, because it did, and I needed it to happen. But it ends there. There's no other choice."

Tears swelled behind her eyes despite her best efforts to suppress them. "I know. Jack, please don't let this ruin us," she pleaded anxiously.

"It won't. I promise," he assured her. "Look, I know you have you get back to work. I just needed you to understand why I left the way I did."

"Thank you," she replied. "I've been a mess all day."

He winced. "Please don't spend another second thinking about me. Please, for me, don't."

"I'll try," she managed.

"Good. By the way, the brakes on my car gave out a few hours ago. It took 180 dollars to repair them."

She laughed out loud, its unexpectedness tempering her sadness. "See, you shouldn't have given me crap about that."

He smiled. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. You know you are."

"Take care," he added before hanging up.

She closed her phone and found the smile lingering on her face. She couldn't just stop thinking about him, despite what he asked of her. But she knew he was right. Another time, they may have had a shot. But this wasn't it.

Still, they managed to give the other exactly what they needed. For Jack, she gave him renewed motivation to pursue a real, emotion-filled, personally fulfilling life. 10 days later, Jack met a woman named Diane.

For Chloe, he gave her the satisfaction of a long held dream come true, without which the nagging question of "what if?" would have continued to dominate her thoughts, closing her to new possibilities. It would still take time, but Chloe now felt able to accept the idea of moving on.

They had been born anew by each other, in the purest of ways.