chapter seven

Jack stood outside CTU for the second time in two months, but just as nervously as the first time. He gazed at the building and the vibrant blue sky above it before Chloe gave him a gentle nudge from behind.

"Ready?" she asked, breaking his stare.

"Yeah," he smiled, walking with her into the place where his past, present, & future always seemed to collide.

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Jack's eyes wandered to Chloe below, working at her station, as he sat in Bill's office about 15 minutes later.

"So," Bill muttered, going over a few papers, "your doctors have cleared you for work...including a psychologist, Dr. Jones...?"

"I started seeing her a month ago, twice a week," Jack explained.

Bill paused. "Good. That's great, Jack."

Jack nodded, casting his eyes to the floor. It had been one of the most productive decisions he'd made in long time to finally start therapy. One session was enough to shatter his preconceptions about the practice.

"I'll have to limit your workload for the foreseeable future, but I'm confident about your progress, Jack, I am," Bill replied. "Do you have a preference for a certain department?"

"No, I'll let you make that decision. But I'm not planning on returning to field ops anytime soon."

"I understand. That's not a problem."

"I'm not saying I'll never go back to field work, but for now I'd rather be in intel sharing and analyzing, something...helpful but stable," Jack added.

"OK, you've got it. I'll find a position for you by tomorrow - is that alright?"

Jack nodded, standing up. "Thank you, Bill."

Bill followed him to the door, where the two men shared a firm handshake. "Jack, you truly amaze me. You are by far the strongest person I've ever had the privilege of knowing."

Jack glanced back down to Chloe and replied with the slightest grin, "I've had a lot of help."

"Chloe," Bill guessed.

Jack's eyes remained on her. "I wouldn't be standing here if not for her."

When Jack left and closed the door behind him, Bill smiled and muttered under his breath, "It's about damn time."

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Chloe watched Jack slowly descend the staircase to the floor, hoping to God that it had gone better than last time. But as soon as their eyes met, she could tell that she needn't worry. He motioned for her to follow him, which she promptly did, leaving her station mid-task without bothering to log out. She followed him down a nearby corridor to a small, secluded corner near the medical wing.

"How did it go?" she asked, a bit nervous due to her almost secretive surroundings.

"He said he'd find a position for me by tomorrow," Jack replied, showing traces of exhilaration on his face.

"Tomorrow? What kind of position?"

"Intel, behind a desk - don't worry," he replied. "Chloe, I...I'm afraid to say it, but this is the closest I've felt to happy in a long time. I'm actually excited."

She smiled brightly. "God, I'm so glad to hear that. I'm so proud of you."

He paused, then gently took both of her hands in his. "I wouldn't be here without you. I wish I could repay you for everything you've done for me..."

"You don't have to," she quickly interrupted.

"But I want to," he answered firmly. "And I'm going to."

Her skin tingled as he tucked a piece of hair behind her right ear. "God knows I've still got a long way to go," he said softly, "but I don't doubt I can do it as long as I have you. And more than anything, I want to really have you."

Her breaths grew short as she realized that the moment had finally arrived. She couldn't have counted how many times she had dreamed of this moment, only to awake and tell herself it would never happen.

"You're really doing this," she muttered as his face grew ever closer.

"I'm really doing this," he whispered before bringing his lips to hers.

She surrendered and lost herself in his arms, where she quickly found herself at complete ease and confidence. His kiss was hungry, as was hers; both melted seamlessly into one another as time ceased to exist. Air was not necessary - neither took the time to breathe, for this stolen moment could not last.

"Chloe," he managed to whisper between kisses.

"Hmmm."

"You have to get back to work," he continued.

"Screw work," she replied, bringing a smile to his face as they opted to indulge one another for just a few more minutes.

Chloe's cell finally brought an end to the moment. She reluctantly pulled away and flipped the phone open. "What?"

"We need you on the floor, Chloe, where are you?" Milo asked.

"I'm on my way," she scowled before hanging up.

Jack grinned, finding her frustration quite charming. "I have to go, too."

She nodded. "I know."

He pulled her in for one more kiss, followed by these words, which he whispered in her ear: "Don't be late coming home tonight."

She smiled as he walked away, basking in a state of enormously pleasant shock.

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Chloe left CTU the exact second that her shift was over. The short drive home seemed to take hours, though it only took 15 minutes.

She walked through Jack's door to find a mostly dark apartment, save for a small lamp near the couch that Jack was sleeping on. She smiled, moving toward him quietly so as to not wake him.

Chloe knelt in front of the couch so that her face paralleled Jack's, which was cradled on an arm of the couch. With unmitigated glee that she could even do this, Chloe reached with her right hand and brushed her palm against his cheek and softly called his name.

His eyes opened slowly before a smile graced his lips. "Hey."

"Hey," she smiled.

"I can't believe I fell asleep," he chuckled, a planned greeting for Chloe now shot to hell. It was going to be a good one, too.

She took a seat next to him as he sat up from his sleeping position. Jack immediately took her face in his hands and kissed her, showing the same amount of intensity as he had at CTU.

This time Chloe forced herself to break away. "Wait."

"What is it?" he asked, hands falling to her shoulders.

She took in a deep breath. "Are you sure this isn't too soon? I mean, the last thing I want to do is rush into something doomed from the start."

"You mean too soon after Audrey," he replied, to which she nodded. He looked away and tried to piece together in his mind the right thing to say. "Listen," he began, "It's going to hurt for a long time. It won't ever stop, it will only dull with time. And I'll have to work on not feeling guilty, because I do. But I can't live without you anymore. It might be too soon, but I can't help but take that chance."

"Jack, I don't want to cause you to feel anymore guilty than you already do," she replied.

"You don't. I do it to myself, Chloe."

She paused, hoping he really could take that chance. "I want this so badly."

He responded with another kiss, one that said more than any word could have. Chloe very happily shut up as the moment stretched into what must have been many more. He kissed her like no one had before, and it felt better than she'd ever imagined. Suddenly she couldn't remember life before his kiss - how had she gone so long without him?

Taking a breath, Jack took her hand and rose from the couch. "Come on," he motioned.

She trembled slightly in anticipation as he led her to his room, hoping she wouldn't faint like she felt she might. When his door closed from behind her, she found herself alone in a world consisting only of Jack, herself, and the soft glow of the moon through his window. It was a world she could truly call home.

She resented her life's journey no more, for every step had led her here - a place she'd all but given up on long ago. But everything she felt was increased tenfold in Jack. Past, present, & future seemed to matter no more - for that's what they would grow to find in one another. One can ask for little more.