Pushing down nerves, Kate Warner tapped on the open door.
The hospital room's sole occupant, Jack Bauer, looked up from the magazine in his lap. "Kate." There was real warmth in his tone, though it was mingled with surprise.
"Your office told me where to find you. I hope you don't mind…"
"Not at all. Please," he said, looking around for a chair and waving a hand in its general direction.
She came into the room hesitantly. The chair was against the wall, but she pulled it closer to his bedside. He watched her, his gaze like a physical touch on her skin. "It's good to see you," he said softly when she was settled.
"You, too," she replied, smiling a little. "How are you feeling?" She let her eyes linger on his face. He looked better than he had the last time she'd seen him, but that wasn't surprising – he'd been on a stretcher at the time, getting loaded into an ambulance. He had more color now, and the cuts he'd had were partially healed.
"I'm okay," he replied, glancing down before meeting her eyes again. "The doctors say I should make a full recovery – no permanent damage."
A little knot in Kate's stomach eased. "That's good."
He shrugged a little. "I just have to take it easy for a little while."
"No more chasing terrorists around the city?" she said, lightly teasing.
He grinned at her. "For a little while."
She smiled and nodded, looking down.
His voice softened. "How are you doing?"
She shrugged a little, studying her hands. "I'm okay. I've been trying to put things to rights at home, but… it's hard." She glanced up, meeting his eyes. The compassion and understanding there bolstered her. "I keep hoping for things to go back to normal, but it can't." Her voice shook, though she tried to stop it. "There is no more normal."
"There will be." He surprised her by reaching out and touching her hand, curling his fingers around it. "It won't be the same, but you'll find it."
God, if she could fall into the softness of his voice like a featherbed, wrapping herself in it, she would. Instead she squeezed his hand, smiling a little weakly at him. "Thank you."
His thumb brushed hers, caressing, as they looked at each other. Kate was seized by an impulse and she gave in without letting herself think about it. "When you get out of here… Can I buy you dinner? Or something? As a thank you, for everything."
She'd surprised him again. He looked down almost bashfully. "You don't have to thank me," he said, shaking his head.
"I know, I…" She looked away as her brain caught up and began berating her. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have…"
"No, I –" She glanced up and saw him giving her a tiny smile, his expression almost shy. "Dinner would be nice."
Oh. She felt herself flush and couldn't keep from smiling. "Okay."
His smile grew, too. "Okay."
They'd resumed staring at each other silently when he abruptly lifted his gaze over her shoulder, his expression shifting. "Tony."
Kate twisted in her chair. The CTU agent who had come to her house that day was standing in the doorway, looking vaguely uncomfortable. "Hey, Jack. I didn't mean to interrupt."
"It's okay," Kate responded before Jack could say anything. "I should probably be going."
"You don't have to…" Jack began, but she shook her head.
"It's okay." She stood, keeping her hand linked with Jack's for a few moments longer. He didn't seem inclined to reclaim it, despite the audience. "So, um…"
"I'll call you," he said, smiling up at her. "I should be out of here in a couple of days."
"Good." She squeezed his hand gently before finally withdrawing. "Take care of yourself."
She made her way to the door, murmuring, "Mr. Almeida," as she passed him. She barely heard him respond with her name. She reached the hallway and stopped restraining the grin that had been threatening to erupt for the last few minutes. A tentative date wasn't much, but it was a good start. She'd take the rest as it came.