Chloe stared blankly at her computer screen, her stomach tied up in knots as she nervously scratched at her right forearm with her left hand.
"Chloe, did you hear me?" Milo asked in a highly irritated tone.
"Yeah, Milo, I've got it," she snapped, shooting him a glare out of the corner of her eye.
He rolled his eyes and walked away, the day's events starting to get to him. She watched him walk away and told herself to focus, that she couldn't afford to get distracted on a day like this.
So she brushed a disobedient piece of hair out of her face and took a breath, placing her fingers back on her keyboard. With a sigh, she focused and tried to get back to work, only to be interrupted by the ring of her phone. "'O Brien," she answered.
"How are you holding up?" Morris asked from his station.
She sighed, locking eyes with him from across the floor. "Okay, I guess."
"I just talked to Buchanan. Jack's a few minutes away," Morris said, knowing full well how anxious Chloe had been since Jack called half an hour ago to say he was on his way.
"Thanks," she replied before hanging up, breaking their eye contact.
He kept an eye on her, though, gazing intently at her as Milo was trying to ask him a question.
Milo fell silent and followed his gaze, prompting him to ask, "What's with her, anyway?"
Morris kept his gaze. "Jack. She's in the middle of a massive anxiety attack."
Milo paused. "Don't mind me asking, but did Chloe & Jack ever..."
"No. Not that it's any of you business," Morris replied.
Milo shrugged & walked away, leaving Morris to await his dreaded moment of truth alone.
Morris could always detect the true nature of Chloe's feelings for Jack, mostly because she would never speak of them, or Jack. If he ever came up in conversation, she would grow quiet before changing the subject or leaving the conversation altogether. He knew what that meant. But he never worried about it - after all, Jack was stuck in China. He posed no threat. But he wasn't so sure now. In fact, he was terrified.
On the ride to CTU, Jack was lost in his thoughts. He had been running on empty all day, and the day wasn't even half over. It was still barely real to walk on American soil, to feel the heat of the sun on his skin, to even speak. Now he was mere minutes from reentering the world he thought he'd lost forever. The first face he saw in his mind was Chloe's.
It had been a surreal joy to hear her voice for the first time that day, but circumstance had prevented him from enjoying that moment. Circumstance had prevented a lot that day, but now he hoped he could take the time to absorb the reality of living again, once he got to CTU. A part of him felt for Chloe the way he did for Kim & Audrey, that she'd be better off not seeing him at all. He'd been jerking her chain for years now, leaving her life altogether for long periods of time only to show up and ask the world of her, then disappear again. He couldn't imagine her wanting to continue the cycle. But he couldn't have been more wrong.
When Bill's figure became visible from her station, Chloe's heart rate spiked as she waited for the man following him to come into view. Morris watched her, his fear slowly being validated.
Jack looked around the building, a slightly dazed look on his face, as he was faced with both the good and the horrible memories the place held for him. But as he passed station after station, more & more people stopped and stared at him, leading him to keep his eyes to his feet.
Chloe took in the familiarity of him, noting how he still looked exactly the same to her. She didn't dare take her eyes off of him, and she knew his would find her.
When they did, their eyes locked, and everyone took notice. Intensity ruled the pair's faces, no smiles to be found. Neither had seen the other in so long, they both seemed ghostlike to one another. But their gaze had to break sooner or later, and soon the moment passed, and Jack entered the situation room.
Chloe looked down at her keyboard, unable to even remember what she was supposed to be doing. But she soon felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Chloe," Bill said quietly, "Jack's in the situation room. I'll have Milo cover you."
"Thanks," she replied before dashing away. Bill glanced over at Morris, fearing a situation was in the making.
"Jack," she nearly gasped after opening the door.
He looked up from the table and finally returned her smile, no words necessary.
She all but ran to him as he stood, trying but failing to restrain herself as she threw herself into his weakened but still strong arms. He closed his eyes, enjoying the closest he'd been to any person, let alone a woman, since longer than he cared to remember.
"I can't believe you're here," she said, muffled by his shoulder. "I thought this time you were gone for good."
He winced, softly caressing her hair. "Me too."
He pulled away just enough to take in the changes she'd made since he'd been gone. "You don't quite match the picture in my head," he smiled.
"Yeah...blame it on Morris," she replied. "He talked me into the hair thing."
"Morris?" he asked, a bit confused,
She paused, not wanting to say the words. "We got back together."
"Oh," he nodded. "Good."
She shrugged, ignoring the strange, almost disappointed look on his face. "Jack, I can't imagine everything they put you through. I haven't gone a day without thinking about you. And then today when they told me they were just going to let you die..."
He winced slightly and took her in his arms again before whispering in her ear, "I'm sorry, Chloe."
She quickly pulled away. "Sorry? For what?"
He looked away, shaking his head a bit. "I can't stop hurting the people I care about."
"Jack," she said sternly, "it's not your fault. Anything that's happened, it's never been your fault."
He grinned morosely, eyes to the floor.
"I'm serious," she snapped, demanding his eyes back to her. "You can't blame yourself."
"Tell that to Curtis," he replied, turning to take a seat at the table.
The sound of Curtis' name sent a cold chill through her spine, reality still not quite sunk in. She continued to stand, watching him rub his tired eyes in his uncomfortable chair, and nervously strung together a sentence in her mind. It soon escaped her lips, too fast for her to stop it.
"I still admire you," she said clumsily as he looked up to her. "Nothing you could do could change that."
He simply stared, this being the first time he'd heard such words in so long.
"You mean that?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah, I do. And the fact that you can't believe it just proves my point," she replied.
He wouldn't allow himself to truly believe her, but her words were soothing to his ears. "Thank you."
She knew that this was the probably the most meaningful conversation she & Jack had shared to date, and just as her anxiety level was lowering and she stopped fearing her own words, Bill interrupted and thus ended the moment. "We have to get to started here," he told them both, Chloe taking her cue to leave.
She looked at Jack, who offered a faint smile full of sincerity. Her heart fluttered, and she turned and left.
Back at her station, she'd barely sat for two seconds before Morris called her.
"You okay?" Morris asked.
"Yeah, Morris, I'm fine - stop asking me that," she replied before hanging up.
Morris set the phone down and closed his eyes. He'd just lost her. He could hear it in her voice and see it in her now glowing face. And suddenly it was all too clear where her heart truly was. It had followed Jack to China, and now it had followed him home. It belonged with Jack. And there was no stealing it - Jack had already stolen it a long time ago.