Disclaimer: Wish I did, but I don't.
Notes: My first 24-verse story, and my first attempt at fanfic after a depressingly long dry spell. Also, Milo's is not exactly the most inspiring point of view to write from, but somehow this story wouldn't come out from anybody else's. So go easy on me, I implore you.
Not for the first time in past several months, Milo Pressman wondered why he was still there. There was almost nothing about working at CTU LA that could be worth this level of aggravation on a daily basis. And when the place was on highest alert, he had a hard time coming up with a single reason why he shouldn't walk out the door right then and there, and just disappear. Wouldn't be the first time.
"Morris, I need those updates in about five minutes ago. Get on it, now. I'm not going to ask you again."
In lieu of an actual response, Milo received a vague 'not now' gesture from Morris, who was leaning over the shoulder of an attractive new junior analyst and gesturing to something on her screen. The ex-shoe salesman's arm was stretched over the back of the young woman's chair, his unnecessarily head close to her ear. Milo couldn't decide if this pleased him or pissed him off. On the one hand, if CTU's senior analyst happened upon the scene, she would be mightily pissed at her boyfriend's continued flirting with other women, and anything that got her ticked at Morris was a-okay in Milo's book. But the fact that Morris was still keeping up this kind of behaviour, in front of her coworkers no less, when he already knew she wasn't the most self-confident and secure woman in the world as it was...
Making a decision, Milo hopped onto the raised platform of workstations in the centre of the bullpen, and strode over to Morris and his new friend.
"Selena," he barked, more harshly than intended.
The young woman started in her chair, and whipped around to face her new supervisor. "Yeah, boss?"
Dropping a disk onto the desk, he shot Morris a glare over Selena's head. "Take these suspect profiles down to archives and cross reference them with the intel we've got on file from the past six week. Usual search perimeters; names, addresses, records, you know the drill."
Milo continued to glare even after Morris shot him an ungenuine friendly smile, and moved back to his own station to resume working as though nothing had happened. Milo waited patiently for the shaven analyst to overcome his childishness. He wasn't kept waiting long.
"Something I can help you with, mate?" said Morris, glancing over his shoulder. "Or you just taking a moment to hope you look half as good as I do when you reach my age?"
Milo felt his ire rise, and fought off the millions of nasty retorts that instantly flooded his brain, instead cutting straight to the chase. "Why do you do that?"
"I do a lot of things, most of them amazingly well. Specifics, please."
"Cheat on Chloe like that," he replied, going straight for the kill.
Morris ceased typing and visibly stiffened in his chair. Slowly, he spun around and faced the taller man.
"What exactly is that supposed to mean?"
"You know what it means. Selena's not the first, I know that for a fact, and I'd be willing she won't be the last."
Morris gaped at his supervisor for a brief second, before letting out an amused scoff. "Milo, you ought to work on expanding your range of experience with the opposite sex if you really think a bit of harmless office banter counts as cheating. Now if you'll excuse me, in case you've forgotten, we've just spent the past twenty-four hours fighting off probably the single worst threat to national security this country has ever face, and the leftover mess is not going to cl--."
"Enough, Morris!" The words struck the air between them like a hammer, and Milo forcibly reigned himself in. The last thing he needed was for the people working under him to overhear a very personal, and very unprofessional argument, but he'd be damned if he let Morris prance around on his high horse any longer. "From what I heard, your marriage to Chloe didn't go down in flames because of a little office flirting. Word has it you did a lot more than that, and more than once, too. Am I right?"
It wasn't easy to piss off a guy so determined to maintain an air of arrogant unflappability like Morris was. Underneath the acidic rage that was spreading under his own skin, Milo felt vaguely proud of himself for being the cause of the dull red flush of anger that was spreading upward from Morris's collar. This had been a long time, and now that the day's threat had passed, he was ready to get it over with. Chloe herself was occupied with server damage in Tech One which only she was capable of repairing, and would be for some time. Milo was grateful once again for her incomparable tech expertise; he had a feeling the petite brunette would be a force to be reckoned with if she ever caught wind of the nature of the conversation that was about to take place between the two men she worked with.
Milo turned on his heel and strode toward his office, knowing the shorter man would follow him.
"Listen, you poncy little blowhard," Morris said once Milo had shut the soundproof glass door behind them, "I don't know who you think you are, but what happens between me and my wife is absolutely none of your business."
Very aware that the offices in CTU provided passing workers with a view akin to staring at fish in a bowl, Milo crossed his arms tightly against his chest to avoid gesturing angrily. "Your ex-wife, last time I checked. And maybe you're right, maybe it's not my business. But if you think I'm just going to stand around and watch you hurt her again, then you're really not as smart as you like to think you are."
"Once again, Chloe's love life is your concern exactly how? You're just a bloke she works with and went out with a few times before she decided, and I quote 'it wasn't really happening'. You do realise that's Chloe-speak for 'he bored the hell out of me,' right? Actually, you ought to feel special, mate. She doesn't sugarcoat for just anybody."
"I'm her friend," Milo ground out. "I don't want to see her make the same mistake twice. Even though, if you ask me, she already has by giving you a second chance."
Morris scoffed again. "You know Milo, I have no problem admitting I made a monumentally stupid mistake where my relationship with Chloe is concerned. A couple of them, in fact. But she knows where I stand with her now, and I don't need you acting as the little birdie in her ear telling her otherwise. So if you really want what's best for her, stay the bloody hell out of it."
Milo nodded slowly, leaning back against his desk. "So you're saying Chloe wouldn't be bothered with you breathing down Selena's neck like that? In front of a whole office full of people who all know what happened between you two the first time you got fresh with a co-worker?"
"Chloe knows where I stand with her now," Morris repeated, his eyes hard. "I love her, and that has hasn't changed, nor will it ever."
Milo said nothing. In the back of his mind, he knew he couldn't refute that statement. He knew Morris was just as in love with Chloe as when Milo had first met the couple years ago, before leaving LA for Denver. They were both working at CTU then too, and Milo remembered thinking what a strange pair they made. Chloe, never cracking a smile unless she was forced to, and Morris, never able to hold back a crack even if he tried to. Nothing about Chloe struck Milo as being Morris's usual type, but he'd seen the way Morris had taken an instant shine to the quiet, withdrawn new junior analyst practically on his first day on the job. Years later, and Morris still looked at Chloe the way he did when they'd first met, which made Milo want to scream in frustration. If he loved her so much, why didn't he guard what they had with his life? If she was Milo's girl...
"You don't deserve her," Milo said quietly.
"And you do?"
The pregnant silence stretched on, rare between the two, as there was hardly a moment that the two were in each other's presence and not swiping back and forth at one another.
Eventually, Morris broke the silence with a sigh, running a hand over his shaven head and collapsing in a chair. He arched his eyebrows questioningly at Milo, his expression probing. "That's what this is about, isn't it? You think you're in love with her, don't you?"
A brief flash of anger swept over him at Morris's unsubtle implication. "Don't presume to tell me what I think, Morris. I know exactly how I goddamn feel."
"Ah. I see," he said neutrally. If he was taken aback by Milo's easy admission, he didn't show it. "Well, I feel for you, mate, I really do. Girls like Chloe are one in a million. She's a tough nut to crack, but once she gets to you, she makes it pretty damn near impossible to let go. Does she know?"
Milo hesitated briefly with his answer, wondering whether or not it would leave him vulnerable later. He decided it didn't matter, since Morris would likely get the answer himself anyway from Chloe as soon as this conversation was over. "Yes. She knows. That's why we broke it off. It...wasn't the same way for her."
Morris nodded, and opened his mouth to speak, when the telephone on Milo's desk interrupted with the familiar four-tone ring. He glanced at Morris, and pressed speakerphone.
Bill Buchanan's voice answered. "Milo, where's Chloe? She's not answering at her desk."
"She's in Tech One, sir," Morris piped up.
"I've tried her there already, and she's not answering. One of you two find her, it's urgent."
"Sir?" Milo asked, a concerned note in his voice that didn't go unnoticed by the older man on the other end of the line. Morris's expression reflected the same.
"It's nothing to worry about. However, she specifically asked earlier to be notified when Jack Bauer arrived back at CTU with the remaining tac teams. He just checked through security a moment ago. Find her, and let her know he'll be waiting to speak with her in my office."
Switching off the speakerphone, Milo looked up at Morris. "I know you said they were friends, but I didn't realise he and Chloe were so close," he said mildly. "You want to find her or should I?"
Morris didn't answer right away, momentarily lost in his own thoughts. "I'll do it. She's got a few haunts here and there around the office for when she wants to be left alone, and I know where they are. And it's probably best she hears the news from a loved one," he added unnecessarily. They both knew Chloe didn't care for such pointless niceties.
But Milo just nodded, his eyes following Morris's retreating form through the glass door. He got the distinct feeling he was missing something.
Evidently, she wasn't trying to hide too hard, because Morris found Chloe leaning against a wall around the corner from the door leading to Tech One. Her eyes were focused at the middle distance, and her right thumbnail was exactly where it always was when she was anxious or upset—between her front teeth.
"I take it you heard the news already?" Morris asked gently.
The thumb lowered. She glanced at him and nodded once. "I saw him checking through security on a video feed."
Morris took in her tense posture, her anxiously furrowed brow, the thumbnail which had flown back between her teeth again. "Then why are you still here? He's up in Bill's office looking to speak with you, and I don't think you ought to keep him waiting. He's had a pretty tough day as it is."
A vague sense of dread washed over Morris as he watched her eyes become almost imperceptivity shiny. It had been so easy to forget this past year. She hardly ever spoke of him, although in the back of his mind he knew she thought of him constantly. Still, she had been with Morris willingly. She had chosen him, and he had rubbed that in Milo's face. Allowed himself to forget, to ignore the nagging sensation that he was giving more than he was receiving from her. He had been stupid enough to think that maybe, if he made her just a tad jealous, he could nudge her into feeling for him the way she did when they had first fallen in love. He'd convince himself she was just being wary, that's why a part of her was so closed off now.
He felt the self-imposed blindfold flutter away as a tear slid down Chloe's pale cheek.
He reached out to wipe it away, and felt heartbroken and so very, very foolish.
"I'm just a little nervous, you know?" she whispered brokenly. "I haven't seen him in almost two years, and he's been through so damn much. Not just in China, but the things he was forced to do today to protect us? How...how do I talk to him? This is me we're talking about! I'm always saying all the wrong things. What can I say that won't remind him of everything?"
Lightly stroking her cheek, he gave her a reassuring smile which he hoped served as a good mask. "I don't think there's any way he's forgotten, love. Don't worry about the words, just be yourself. He'll be blind not to see what a lucky bastard he is to have someone like you looking out for him."
She opened her mouth, probably to deny it, but Morris placed a finger over her lips. "Just go," he said gently. She hesitated, then nodded, quickly wiping away any remnants of tears, and smoothing down her hair and dress.
Morris watched her retreating figure, knowing that he had just lost something. Then he wondered if it was even possible to lose something that was never his to begin with.
Morris found his way back to Milo's office, and observed the younger man seated at his desk reviewing reports.
"Knock, knock," he said from the door.
Milo gestured him inside, and Morris could tell from his expression that any lingering hostility was gone. Still, Morris felt the unusual urge to make amends. He had acted like a true bastard toward Milo for weeks, and now, in the face of Jack's return into Chloe's life, he had finally allowed himself to acknowledge how pointless it had all been.
Incredibly, thoroughly pointless.
"Just thought I'd let you know I found Chloe. She's with Jack right now."
"You could've phoned to tell me that," Milo replied, without any edge.
"Yeah. Yeah, I know. But I wanted to speak with you in person about something."
Milo gave him a 'go ahead' nod, looking curious.
"I wanted to...apologise. For being such an arse lately. Chloe was right, I was jealous, but I realise now how...misplaced those feelings were. I made things unnecessarily difficult for all of us. It was unprofessional, and pretty unbecoming of a gentleman like myself. So, I'm sorry."
Milo looked completely taken aback at this unexpected, and in his opinion, completely uncharacteristic show of humility from someone he figured didn't even know what the word meant. Still, something told him the apology was genuine.
"Fine. I'm sorry as well," he offered. "I know where you and Chloe stand, and you know I was just trying to be her friend. Let's just leave it at that, and do what we come here to do—our jobs. I won't bring it up again."
At that, Milo expected at least a flash of triumph to cross Morris's eyes, but saw none. "Sounds like a fair deal. I also highly recommend we don't mention any of this to Chloe. I don't know about you, but I'm rather attached to my limbs."
Milo let out a muffled laugh. As if he would ever breathe a word of this to anyone who worked anywhere near CTU, much less Chloe herself. "Absolutely. You've got no argument from me."
And uncomfortable silence passed between the two men. "So, anything else that needs to be done, or can me and...can I go home for the night? The last time I was up for twenty-four hours straight involved a much younger me stumbling through Piccadilly Circus with a pretty little thing called Lucia."
Milo snorted and shook his head. "Just finish those updates I asked for an hour ago, and then you can take off. Don't you want to wait for Chloe, though?"
"She'll be with Jack for some time, I imagine. I wouldn't interrupt." There was something about the way Morris said the words, accompanied by an odd expression on his face. It was barely there, but to Milo, it seemed almost like resignation.
"Last time I saw Jack, he was married to Teri," Milo said with a heavy sigh. "Now...well, I've heard the stories, and read his reports, but I can't imagine. Like I said, I didn't realise he and Chloe were so close until today."
Morris ran a hand over his shaven head again, and took a step closer to Milo's desk. His voice was low and subdued.
"They are. She would do anything for him, and you only saw a glimpse of that today." Then, stepping back, he gave a jaunty salute. "I'll see you on Monday."
Before Milo could reply, Morris turned on his heel and strode out of the office. He gaped, then shook his head, and decided to shove the last half an hour out of his mind and put it along with the events of the rest of the day, which he was also studiously avoiding thinking about.
Several minutes later, after some frustrated searching and shuffling of paper, Milo realised he'd forgotten to retrieve the reviewed copies of the last two hours worth of productivity reports from Bill. They were likely sitting on Buchanan's desk right now, and those last few documents were all he needed to complete the day's exceptionally hefty activity reports. Resting his exhausted head against the surface of the desk for a moment, Milo made a decision and stood up. After all, hadn't he just made a deal with Morris that included keeping personal matters out of his work life? Chloe would understand, as would Jack, if he remembered anything about the other man's steely work ethic.
Cross the bullpen, his long legs lead him up the familiar staircase to Buchanan's office two at a time. He reached the landing, looked inside the glass room, and stopped.
Inside, Chloe and Jack stood together, arms around one another in a tight embrace. Neither one appeared to be speaking, although he couldn't see Chloe's face with her back facing Milo. Jack's eyes were closed tightly, but a stray tear or two managed escape before he pressed his face to Chloe's neck and let go completely, his shoulders shaking as she appeared to gather him even closer, if that was possible. It was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.
All this Milo saw only fleetingly. He allowed himself only a glance at the scene before something in Milo's understanding of his place in the scheme of things shifted into place, and a profound sense if shame overcame him for even seeing that much. He pivoted on his heel without losing momentum, and strode back down the stairs and across the bullpen.
Man. Office romance seriously sucked.
That was pretty crap, right? I started this a few nights after the four-hour premier, but I just couldn't get into Milo's head (dude's pretty dull so far). And as of this Monday's episode, half of the premise of this story (Milo being in love with Chloe) has been blown to bits by new canon suggesting that he's got goo-goo eyes for Nadia instead, so I wasn't going to bother finishing it. But in the end, I dragged out the last few sentences anyway. I also was going to include a scene between Jack and Chloe in Bill's office, but Allyson Bauer posted a story yesterday that contains a scene like that, but about ten times better than what I was going to write, so read hers instead. ;)
Thanks for reading!