This story is sort of a continuation of my post-season 6 story, Shred of Hope, though I may write more of that at some point. It takes place 6 months later. Audrey is talking now but still struggling with PTSD. Jack is trying his best to take care of her but it's not always easy.

Warning to J/A fans: I did some research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it puts a lot of strain on relationships. So this won't be all lovey-dovey, and it may not even have a happy ending (although I can't imagine I'd have the heart to do anything else, but we'll see where it goes). I'm hoping it will be at least somewhat realistic.

Disclaimer: If I owned the characters, do you think I would have made my favorite character a Republican?

Alexandria, Virginia - 5:15 AM
Jack opens his eyes slowly, but jumps up when he reaches to the other side of the bed and finds nothing there. He quickly grabs a shirt and tiptoes downstairs. He sighs with relief when he sees Audrey sitting on the couch with her legs stretched out, typing something on a laptop and watching the news.

"Latinos have traditionally been a reliable Democratic voting bloc, but the big question of this election season is whether they'll break ranks to support a Latino candidate on the Republican side," the anchor is saying on TV.

Jack stops in his tracks, not wanting to startle Audrey. He sits on the stairs smiling at her. She eventually turns around and recoils a little when she sees him sitting there.

"How long have you been there?" she asks, her voice a little shaky.

"A couple minutes. I didn't want to startle you," he says softly. "Guess I didn't do so well with that."

She chuckles a little. "I think you'd have a better chance of convincing me to vote for a Democrat," she says jokingly.

"One of these days I'll figure out a way to enter a room without scaring you," he insists as he walks over and kneels down on the floor next to the couch, hesitating before gently placing his hand on her shoulder. Sometimes she gets intimidated at any touch, so he has to be careful. She seems receptive so he scoots a little closer and plants a gentle kiss on her forehead.

"How long have you been up?" he asks.

"A couple hours. I couldn't sleep," she says with a sigh.

"Did you have a nightmare?" he asks gently.

She hesitates for a moment and then nods, looking down as if it's some source of shame.

"Why didn't you wake me up?" Jack asks.

"I wanted to try to handle it myself...I can't keep waking you up every time I have a nightmare like I'm 5 years old."

"You know you can," Jack replies firmly. "Can you try to tell me about it?" he prods.

She hesitates. "Come on, Dr. Farrell said you're better off talking about it than trying to forget it."

She sighs. "Just the usual...I don't remember all of it but I remember being in a shower with freezing cold water and people watching. I woke up shivering and I thought it might just be a nightmare but I needed confirmation, so I went to the bathroom and confirmed that the shower had hot water and by the time I took a shower and dried my hair I just wasn't tired anymore. I didn't want to wake you so I came in here to watch the post-game analysis from the debate."

"Well, at least you didn't miss out on hearing about whether they think latte-sipping Mexicans who drive SUV's will relate to Daniels' proposal to obliterate Iran," Jack says teasingly. Audrey giggles.

"You don't get it," she says with a smile.

"Oh I get the importance of this election. I just don't get the way the news media covers it...for all the talk about who is qualified to make a national security decision at 3 in the morning, they don't seem to get the fact that how many years they've been in the Senate or whether they can appeal to people who own guns and drive pick-up trucks has nothing to do with it. I've seen presidents have to make those decisions, several of which affected my own life and the lives of people around me, and the way the news media covers it is so divorced from reality. I can tell you first hand that Noah Daniels is unfit to be commander in chief judging from his past performance."

"Yeah," Audrey says softly, looking distant all of a sudden.

"What's wrong?" Jack asks gently.

"I still can't remember," she says, struggling not to cry.

Jack sighs. He knows that her inability to remember how she was freed from the Chinese is a source of frustration for her. He suspects that not remembering how she got away from them makes her more fearful of them coming back.

"I know you don't remember how you got away from the Chinese and it's frustrating, but you've got to trust me when I tell you you're safe now. I won't let anyone hurt you, I promise."

"I know," she says with a sigh. "And I trust you with my life. I just wish I could shake this feeling of being scared all the time."

"You will," Jack promises. "You'll get there eventually, but it's going to take some time." He lifts up one of her hands and kisses it, revealing a shiny diamond rock on her ring finger.

"How come you're so okay?" she asks. "What you went through had to be even worse, and for so much longer...how come you're not all messed up the way I am?"

Jack looks her square in the eye. "You're not all messed up," he says firmly. "You've come so far and made so much progress. And if it makes you feel any better, I have nightmares too sometimes."

"You do?" she asks, seeming surprised. "How come you never told me that?"

"I didn't want you to worry," Jack replies. "And to be honest, a lot of the nightmares I have are about somebody hurting you, and the last thing you need is to hear about that. But if you ever wondered why I sometimes wake up and grab you tighter than I probably should in the middle of the night that's why."

"You want to make sure I'm still here?" she asks.

"Yeah," Jack says with a nod.

"I'm still here," she says, managing a small smile. "Although I'm amazed you still put up with me."

"Why, because you sometimes get a little agitated?"

"Among other things," she says softly. "I get more than a little agitated, I start irrationally lashing out at you and blaming you for things that aren't your fault, and I...I keep chickening out and it must be driving you crazy."

Jack sighs. "Audrey, I told you last night, it'll happen when you're ready. The last thing I want to do is push you into anything you're not ready for and have you regret it."

"I don't think I'll regret it," she says. "I think once we do it once I'll be able to do it again."

"Well, maybe you're right, but I'm still not going to push you."

"I know," she says with a smile.

"Listen, Audrey, I would probably still be in a Chinese prison right now if you hadn't cared enough to come look for me. When I got you back I promised myself I would take care of you no matter how long it took for you to get better. And if that means being your punching bag sometimes then I can take it...I'm pretty tough, in case you haven't noticed."

Audrey smiles as Jack stifles a yawn.

"How come Mr. Toughguy can't stay awake?" she teases.

"Well, it is pretty early."

"Why don't you go back to sleep for a little while? I'll be okay."

"Come with me," he suggests.

"I'm already too awake to fall back asleep," she says with a hint of exasperation.

"Well, come lay down with me for a little while. You can put this nonsense on in the bedroom if you want. Maybe it will help me fall back to sleep."

"Okay, you win."

"May I?" he asks, waiting for her to nod before scooping her up and carrying her toward the bedroom.

"Trying to prove how tough you are?" she teases.

"Well, you don't exactly make that too difficult. You know, your father said we're not allowed to get married until you gain back enough weight to fit into your wedding dress."

"I'm trying," she insists. "I can't help it if I'm not hungry much."

Jack rolls his eyes as he lays her down on the bed and pulls the covers over her. He goes around to the other side and reaches for the remote, putting on Audrey's favorite political commentators before crawling into bed with her.

Despite her earlier claim that she wasn't tired, he notices her trying to fight the urge to fall back asleep. He suspects she is afraid to go back to sleep because she is afraid of having another nightmare. So he wraps his arms around her and kisses the back of her head.

"Go back to sleep sweetheart...I've got you," he whispers.

"I have to get up soon anyway," she protests. "I told Ted I'd come in at 10."

"I'll make sure you get up."

She studies him for a moment as he strokes her hair and looks at her reassuringly.

"Are the doors locked?" she asks.

"Of course. The doors are all locked...I've got my gun right under the bed. Come on, just close your eyes. I won't let anyone hurt you, I promise."

After staring at Jack for another minute, Audrey nods and closes her eyes, snuggling into him. He pulls her close and kisses her forehead, watching her sleep like an angel in his arms. He wants to go back to sleep but he suddenly feels vulnerable, as though falling asleep will make him unable to protect her. So he just lays there for a while watching her sleep, making sure she is sound asleep before closing his eyes.

Love it? Hate it? Have suggestions? Feedback is welcome, good and bad. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it, and hope to post more soon.