Title: Eastern Hospitality
Fandom: 24
Pairing/Characters: Renee/Jack; Renee, Jack, Janis Gold (s7 character), OFCs, OMCs - and eventually Chloe and Tony Almeida.
Rating/Warnings: Rated R, for Jack/Renee sexual situations. And non-graphic torture, violence, minor character death, and language - basically, all the normal stuff you'd expect in 24.
Summary: Day 9 scenario, told from Renee's point of view. In the city of Chicago, the Solntsevskaya Brotherhood have just acquired a deadly virus, leading Renee to dive back undercover with old Russian acquaintances. CTU and the FBI both have an interest, but it's just a matter of time before things get out of control and Jack Bauer gets pulled back into the chaos.
Spoilers: This is the third fic in my "Resurgence Series," therefore it goes AU after 8.07. Also, specific spoilers for all of s7.
Disclaimer: 24 does not belong to me.
Author's note: Currently halfway done at 11k. Third in my "Resurgence Series," following "Twenty" and "Benediction," so read those first. I've been writing this thing for a while, attempting to do a Season 9 scenario but, holy heck, this has turned out more challenging than I expected. It takes a liberal does of suspended disbelief to write like 24, but eventually I got into the flow and then even mentally cast all the OCs, 'cause I'm a geek like that.

It begins, like always, with a standard debrief. There's a part of Renee that missed being in the field. The sweat, the heat, the grit – a part of her has always been a bit of an adrenaline junky. But this? This part she certainly doesn't miss. She hates waiting to find out about the latest crisis that's hit - her imagination always runs away with her, and 9 times out of 10, it usually turns out worse. She walks through the glass doors of Chicago's HQ, and the first thing waiting for her at the threshold is two armed guards and one familiar face that has no right being here amidst CTU data analysts and field operatives.

"Renee," Janis Gold greets, a tad uneasily, and she's wearing silver trim glasses and a dark blue shirt. "Hey. Long time, no see."

Renee struggles to cover for her shock. "Janis? What are you doing here?"

Janis' eyes dart away before she gives a one-shouldered shrug, like her being here as a tech analyst isn't strange at all. For the next few minutes, any verbal response Renee gets is a half-hearted measure to stall as they walk through the corridors to a more secure location. The hustle and bustle of activity around them indicates something major is going down, but Renee can't wrap her head around Janis' involvement. Did the FBI loan her out? Renee can't see that happening because the FBI and CTU rarely cooperate. Two different methods. Two different ideologies. After a few years of trying, both agencies realized that they couldn't run joint task force operations so they just stopped trying – much like Janis and Renee, actually.

Janis swipes her ID card at the door and enters the Situation Room. "This feels a little unreal," she mutters as she leads the way in, "but I guess it's gonna be just like old times."

Renee somehow doubts that.

"I hope you understand why you were brought in with such urgency, Agent Walker," Kristen Lynn informs, the new acting Director of CTU. She's slim, Asian, and beautiful – and Renee knows she's a certifiable shark in political waters. "The Dmitri family is up to their old tricks."

The Dmitri family. Christ, there's a name Renee can do without hearing ever again. The Solntsevskaya bratva, or Solntsevskaya brotherhood, was at one time the most powerful organized crime group in the eastern United States. Renee's stretch of undercover work seven years ago helped to disband much of the group's infrastructure, but pockets of strongholds still remained. Luka Dmitri, the once defacto leader of the group, was long behind bars.

His sister, Anya, is another matter.

"She's planning a jailbreak," Janis explains as she pulls up a picture for the big screen. "It's going to be an interesting family reunion."

The picture is grainy, half-out-of-focus, but the old surveillance shot somehow does them justice anyway. While Luka is short with dark hair, Anya is a tall blonde. It's hard to see the family similarities, but Renee knows they've both got more than a few psychological defects in common. Sociopaths, the both of them.

Lynn continues, "The FBI has been monitoring chatter with some lower informants, and earlier today Janis picked up some noise from some of your old acquaintances. We're fairly sure that Anya is about to take out the prison transport van later today that's scheduled to transfer Luka to a super-max prison just outside of Chicago."

"So?" Renee asks with a lifted eyebrow. "If the FBI knows about it, why not stop it? Why am I here? And why is CTU involved?"

"All excellent questions," Janis mutters warily, like she's been asking the same questions for some time now.

Lynn tips a dark look towards Janis because her particular snark takes a bit getting used to, and Lynn doesn't seem the type to appreciate the quality. "Suffice it to say, it's a little more complicated than that."

Of course, it is.

One hour later, the situation turns out to be really, really complicated.

Renee is in an orange prison jumpsuit, being escorted towards an inmate transport vehicle. Her shackled feet almost sink into the sliding mud. Inside, she settles along one side of the wall, and the guard reaches for her chains and ties them securely to the steel bar near her feet. The guard, the one-in-the-know, glances up and nods once towards Renee with what feels like an apology, but Renee tries to ignore it. She needs to get her head on straight – get properly undercover. Even an acknowledging nod could throw her off her game.

The hidden bud in Renee's ear is clear and practically invisible, and the steady silence on the feed is strangely calming. Back at headquarters, the FBI and CTU are both facilitating one operation under Lynn's command. It spells disaster in numerous ways, but Renee doesn't care much about jurisdictional pissing contests anymore, especially not with this much at stake.

"All right, Renee," Janis says through the earpiece, trying for a calming presence. "Showtime."

A moment later, the back door flies open and Luka Dmitri is escorted in.

Murder-for-hire, extortions, arson, arms trafficking, narcotics, assassinations, infiltration and corruption of legitimate businesses and a few law enforcement agencies. Luka Dmitri enforced his authority within New York's Russian underworld with methods that made him infamous. It's easy to remember all this while staring into his eyes. They're dead eyes, like doll's eyes.

"Renee Zadan," he greets with a dark accent, stretching his Rs as he says her name. "It has been a long time. Strange that we meet this way. What are you doing here?"

Renee arches a cool eyebrow back, then raises her cuffed hands pointedly. "A vacation. What else?"

A small smirk edges its way out, but Luka's eyes are still far from amused. "Like an old reunion. They say this new prison is nicer than my old neighborhood." He slants a glance aside, scrutinizing Renee curiously. "You look different… a bit harder than I remember."

"I didn't spend the last few years of my life in a charm school, Luka," Renee returns evenly. "Prison isn't fun."

Luka snorts in disdained amusement. Illinois' only "super-max" prison is situated amid rolling hills and farmland on the southern tip of the state. It's designed to house the state's most dangerous inmates – but compared to the Siberian prison camp that Luka had spent six years in, it's practically a spa facility.

Luka leans forward a little, the orange jumper suit riding up his forearm to reveal an old Mafia tattoo of a broken cross. "What happened to you?"

"I was free and clear for the last few years," she says, then grimaces. "Though, apparently, my luck ran out. Got caught six months ago."

Luka gives her a smile, but she can't tell if it's mocking or not. "Luck is for weak, Renee. True soldiers make their own fate."

The expression on his face doesn't give much away, and utter silence descends as he sits back again. Damn, he has a good poker face. If CTU didn't already have confirmation on Luka's plans, it would have been hard to tell that this man was anticipating freedom within the hour instead of three life-sentences, served back-to-back-to-back.

"And before that?" he prompts. "Before you were caught?"

"I was in prison for a time. When I got out, I was… elsewhere, like everyone else."

"Not everyone else."

Renee looks to him. "Speaking of, how's your sister doing?"

Luke smiles. "I wouldn't know."

After a beat, Renee lets the matter drop and rests her head back against the wall, closing her eyes for a moment of stillness.

The day is just beginning.

Almost an hour later, the van comes to a screeching halt and Renee is thrown sideways. Somebody barrels a truck right into their van, the impact jarring and violent. The next thing Renee knows, a small grenade is launched clear into the air, striking the dirt road next to them. The grenade detonates, exploding – and the truck rocks, upended.

Renee shifts with a groan as the back doors slide apart. Two darkly clad men enter the truck. The infrared beam of an M60 machine gun sweeps across the interior of the van. The first prison guard doesn't stand a chance – shot twice in the chest before he can even recover. (Thank god for the hidden Kevlar.) Renee attempts to move, then goes still as a statue.

The beam of a single red dot mars her forehead.

"Enough," Luka orders the masked men. "Get me out of these chains."

A few moments later, Luka is released, and he stares down at Renee, scrutinizing her like a bug on a windshield.

"Sir?" one of the masked men asks Luka. "Should we dispose of her?"

Renee lifts her head. "Luka," she says with a hard edge. "I'm a valuable asset. Don't be wasteful. You can use me."

After a deafening pause, Luka merely narrows his eyes. He turns back and nods once to his men. Renee is released, then roughly dragged by the forearm out of the vehicle. Outside, it's pouring rain and two black vans are waiting with the engines running. The prison guard driver is on his knees on the wet asphalt, and there isn't another car for miles. Luka grabs one of the sidearm weapons from his men, checks the clip and then hands the gun to Renee.

"Kill him," he orders, nodding towards the prison driver.

Renee stares at the offered weapon. She straightens, grabs the gun, then without hesitation fires two rounds into the guard's chest. The guard falls face-first into the pavement. His simple prison uniform, like all the others, hides Kevlar. The Russians don't know that.

Luka nods, but his blank face never changes. "Get her in the car."

She's manhandled into one of the two awaiting vehicles, and Luka starts towards the other one. But before they take off, she sees Luka pause briefly in the streets, raise his weapon towards the fallen guard and unload the entire clip into the prone body. It's pure overkill, an act of driven bloodlust, but her stomach clenches when she sees a splatter of red mist spread out when Luka gets in a headshot.

Bile rises in her throat, but it's Janis' voice in her earpiece that echoes the sentiments she can't say aloud. "God have mercy."

She hopes this will be worth it, in the end.

When the cars finally arrive at some factory after a twenty-minute drive, a tall blonde woman is waiting for them.

Anya Dmitri greets Renee like an old friend.

The bathroom facilities are as unsanitary as those she'd find in a roadside gas station, but Renee doesn't complain. Anya gives Renee some of her own clothing, and she eagerly changes out of the orange jumpsuit into some slim jeans and a white tank top. She pulls her hair back into a ponytail, staring back at her reflection through the greasy mirror.

Briefly, she has a flashback to a little over six months ago when she'd gone back under with Vladimir Laitanan as her mark. The rush of nausea is fierce, but only passing.

This isn't the same thing. This isn't the same threat.

Luka is a bastard in a lot of ways, but he has nothing on Vladimir. And Anya – she'd once been the closest thing to a friend Renee had in the entire organization; a solidarity among women, she supposed. Still, for all their past affection, Renee is too observant to miss the slight hint of suspicion in Anya's eyes. Renee spent two years undercover, gaining cred with these people. They don't trust easily, and old friendships only go so far.

"Renee?" Lynn calls over her earpiece. "How's your cover holding up?"

"Fine, but they haven't really probed me much. I shot the driver without hesitation, so it brought me some credibility." She pauses, heavily. "How is… did he…"

"The driver's dead," Lynn cuts in, voice dropping.

And Renee did nothing but watch while it happened.

"Renee, I know what you're thinking but don't do that now. You need to keep your head in the game. Those guards knew what they were signing up for."

Renee doesn't bother responding, and for a few minutes silence reigns until Janis comes on. "One more thing… um, Jack Bauer called. It's actually been his third phone call since this morning." Janis sighs, and wryly adds, "And from what I hear, he's proving as charming a man as I remember."

Renee hides a flinch.

"I didn't know you two were involved," Janis broaches, a little awkwardly.

"We didn't exactly have time to catch up, Janis."

Janis pauses, then offers as a token, "I've got a cat now."

Renee almost smiles. "What did Jack say?"

"He asked about you. He seemed distressed, but Lynn covered for you, just like agreed. Something about a training exercise, but I don't think he bought it."

Renee isn't remotely surprised.

It's been a little over sixteen hours since she'd left that message on Jack's voicemail – a message that was little more than some vague excuse about delaying her return trip to New York. It's perhaps too much to hope that he'd leave the matter alone for a few hours under the assumption that Renee was still reconnecting with her younger sister, Zoey. But if he's already making calls to the Chicago CTU headquarters, it means he's figured out something more is up.


"Just stall," Renee says, but she knows that won't work for long with Jack. She's dragged him back into enough messes already, though. This time, she's determined to handle things on her own. "Anything else?"


She walks back out of the bathroom, and finds that Luka is waiting for her with a serrated knife in his hands. "Renee," Luka greets darkly. "There are rumors that say you were there the day Vladimir Laitanan died."

Son of a bitch.

Renee gets bound to a chair for interrogation, threatened with electrocution if she doesn't cooperate. Nothing unexpected, given the circumstances unfolding, but something tells her that the Luca doesn't have the same stomach for abusing women that Vladimir did. Things have barely progressed beyond threats. At least, thus far.

CTU assures her they're sending backup, but Renee isn't too clear on the details and covertly warns them to back off. She knows that once the calvary comes crashing through, the operation is over.

That's the last thing that she can afford to let happen.

Less than thirty-six hours ago, when the FBI learned of Luka's prison break, CTU had been conducting its own investigation into Anya's activities. Right now, there are three missing canisters of a derivative virus of nothing less than the Bubonic Plague; the same disease that killed approximately 150,000,000 people worldwide until it was wiped out in the 1950s. This altered disease isn't curable by the standard antibiotic treatments, either. From what Renee gathers, this new disease called Virus SRX uses the base bacterium Yersinia Pestis to speed up the killing process. A shipment of SRX was stolen from a research facility in Springfield, and could kill half the populated states in 3-5 weeks without treatment or proper containment.

Anya Dmitri is a likely suspect, and it's Renee's job to keep an eye on them from the inside. This operation is bigger than her. She has to find a way to maintain her cover if she can.

Unfortunately, Luka isn't in a cooperative mood.

"Tell me what happened with Vladimir," Luca demands, as electrical sparks fly from the rigged car battery that's being used to coerce Renee's responses. "The rumors of his demise have always been suspicious to me. No one has ever been able to tell me what happened."

"I wasn't there," Renee grits out, angrily. "I don't know where you're getting your information, but it's wrong. I haven't seen Vladimir in years! I didn't even know he was dead!"

"You're lying, Renee."

"I'm not!"

"Luka," Anya stops him, just before he zings Renee with a round of electricity. "This is enough! We don't have time for this! We have to leave within ten minutes."

Shit. She can't let Luka and Anya leave the factory without her, especially if they're conducting the exact business that landed Renee here in the first place, back undercover with the Russians.

"Anya," Renee pleads with a hard edge. "You know me! You know I didn't do anything to Vladimir."

Anya pauses. "I know your history with Vladimir. He was a bastard to you—" she cuts off Luka's protests before they spill loose, "—don't deny it, Luka. You know it's true. You may have been friends with him, but he was obsessed with Renee."

Luka shrugs. "Doesn't give her a right to kill him."

Anya rolls her eyes, sounding annoyed. "If Vladimir had tried half the things he did to Renee with me, I'd have cut off his balls years ago. Or you would have done far worse yourself. Vladimir was a useful man, but he was bastard, Luka. You know that."

"He was a good brother."

"Yes, to you he was." Anya pushes away from the wall, striding over. "He was also a smart business man. We have too much riding on today for these petty personal disputes."

Luka glares. "I can't take an hour to find out the truth about my friend's death from this bitch?"

"But she might actually be innocent, and we can use her." Anya turns back to Renee. "Renee is a useful hand to have around, if I recall."

"I still am," Renee replies forcefully. "Whatever you need, I know the right people. I know how to handle business. I always have."

Anya turns back to Luka. "See? She has her uses."

Luka's eyes darken. "We can't let her get involved at this stage. You really trust her?"

"I like her," Anya rebuffs calmly. "C'mon, brother. What do you think she is? A cop?" She scoffs. "Do you remember the report we received of Vladimir's death? He was stabbed multiple times, once even in the eye. Does that sound like a cop killing to you?"

"No, but then that does sound like something a woman would do to a man that tried to rape her."

Anya pauses, then looks back at Renee as she concedes the point. Vladimir's history with Renee is infamous, and all too well-known to the people in this group. "Fine. If she did kill Vladimir, I could care less, but that means she's lying to us now, and then we can't trust her. If we can't trust her, then we have no use for her."

She gestures for one of the men in the back to come forward – Adam Bartos, a tall man with a lean build, dark eyes; Renee remembers him from the old days. Everybody knows Adam, and Adam knows everybody. He is, perhaps, one of the most well-connected men in the group. There's a tattoo on his forearm of a saw and a blindfold, a symbol that old Solntsevskaya men used to indicate a trade in interrogation. If he vouches for someone after questioning them, there's virtually no second-guessing it.

"You finish talking to Renee," Anya instructs Adam. "Luka and I will go to the meeting. I want you to find out everything from Renee. Everything, am I understood?"

"What have I done to deserve this?" Renee barks in anger. "Two years, I spent with you! I did my time in prison just like everyone else."

"You must make your bones again, Renee," Anya answers easily. "I know it's terrible, but consider it going through the vetting process all over again. An expedited version, of course."

Renee knows exactly what this vetting process entails – torture. If she can withstand it, she's in. If she doesn't, she's out. The Russians always had a way of testing resolve – it isn't called Russian Roulette for nothing, after all.

"Just don't kill her, Adam," Anya warns. "Make your phone calls, run through her story and verify the facts. Once you're done, you know where to meet us. Luka and I will expect you no later than eight, tonight. If Renee has passed your test by then, bring her with you."

Adam nods. "I'll be there."

And just like that, Luka and Anya walk away to leave her alone in the hands of a man that has murder in his eyes.

Her voice goes hoarse from screaming.

It's sad to say, though – she's had worse. Adam Bartos isn't half the monster that Vladimir was. Still, a few volts of electricity is enough to leave Renee feeling the sting of abuse, and her body aches with a throb that no amount of adrenaline can cover up.

Adam shakes his head. "You're lying about something, Renee. I can tell. Your story is a little too neat."

"I'm not lying. Why would I?"

"I always know what people are up to, and not once in the last seven years have I heard a word about you. Renee Zadan – it used to be I could hear nothing but that name. What did you do all this time? Fall off the face of the Earth?"

"I laid low," Renee seethes. "You didn't hear about me because I did my job right. I ran with circles other than Russian."

"As an example?"

She pauses. "Germans, but I can't tell you anymore than that. They wouldn't like their names being dropped."

Adam rises from his chair. "I know some Germans. I'll make some phone calls, and you better pray that one of them pans out otherwise I am going to get far more interested in the interrogation part of this evening."

He turns his back on her to make a few phone calls. It makes her nervous, but she has no choice but to trust that CTU did their job right and verified her background with the right people. And while he makes perhaps half a dozen phone calls in the next fifteen minutes, he only stops to take one – a phone call from his wife, Alexandria.

With Russians, family is a big thing. From what Renee remembers from all those years ago, Alexandria was nothing like the thugs that ran with the Solntsevskaya brotherhood. She was a simple woman – nice. Even now, in the midst of torture, Adam turns his back to Renee and drops his voice to talk with her, lying about his whereabouts and what's he's currently doing. It's sickening to watch the act, but Renee takes refuge in the brief respite.

When her earpiece clicks, she expects to find Janis coming back on. She's shocked as hell when a different voice drifts over the radio.

"Renee, don't react, it's me. Jack."

It's takes every ounce of willpower to stifle her response – something that no doubt would have been colorful. She didn't even know that Jack was in Chicago, much less brought into the operation. It's not really a surprise, though, once she slows her rapid breathing to think about it. Jack wouldn't waste any time in flying into the state as soon as he suspected something was wrong, and Lynn would have to be stupid to waste a resource like him.

Never one for emotional reactions when there's a job to be done, Jack cuts through all the bullshit. "I've been brought up to speed on what's going on. CTU has got a team waiting to extract you. They're raiding that factory in two minutes. I'd be there too, but I'm still twenty minutes out from your location."

She makes a sound in the back of her throat, protesting, and it comes out sounding like half a choke. Adam pivots back to glare before he returns to his phone call with his wife. Jack's gotta know what she's trying to say, though. He can't come in. Not now. It'll blow the operation, and she knows what he must be thinking – that this is exactly like before, six months ago, except one vindictive Russian has been swapped in for several.

In only a few seconds, Jack has managed to do what Adam hasn't, because her vision blurs with unchecked tears. She feels panic claw at her. The threat of failure in this moment is too choking, too horrifying. She can't allow that to happen. She needs a way to salvage this – to salvage her cover. She needs a way to convince Adam that she had nothing to do with Vladimir's death, even if every night she can vividly remember the sensation of stabbing him over and over again in her nightmares. She needs to salvage this.

No, she realizes.

She needs leverage.

"Jack," she whispers softly, because she can only afford a few words without drawing attention from Adam. She pauses, closing her eyes, horrified by what she's about to suggest, but it needs to happen. She can't lose her cover with Anya and Luka. "Use Alexandria Bartos," she breathes in a low voice. "His wife."

A second later, Adam hangs up the phone and turns back to her.

And because Jack has always been on the same wavelength as her, he immediately understands what she means. There's no explanation necessary. Thirty minutes later, Adam gets a call. No doubt, the caller-ID suggests it's his wife again, but when Adam answers, his whole body stiffens in surprise.

Renee is too busy nursing a bruised body to hear things at first, but eventually the sound of Jack's voice carries over. "I have your wife. Now, if you want to ever see her alive again, you'll do exactly what I say."

Within ten minutes, Adam is unwinding the rope at Renee's hands and feet. "If anything happens to Alexandria," Adam warns, "I'll kill everyone in your family, everyone you ever loved, and I'll make you watch."

She spots Jack's car exit the highway and turn into the cove beneath the overpass. Earlier the weather had been gloomy, all overcast with thick clouds, but now the rain has stopped and the temperature has risen. The sun shines overhead, but Renee could care less about any of it, still fighting the urge to upchuck her breakfast.

Adam manhandles Renee out of the car, but when Jack gets out of his, he's utterly alone. "Where's my wife?" Adam demands.

Jack pulls off his shades. "You do what I tell you to, and your wife will be fine. She's being held by some associates of mine."

"What? That wasn't part of the deal!"

"The deal is what I say it is," Jack warns. "Or we start sending your wife back, piece by piece. They'll start with something small, maybe a finger or a toe. Then they'll get ambitious."

He tosses Adam a cell phone, and Adam flips it open to find an image of Alexandria bound and gagged, looking terrified. It's time-stamped for fifteen minutes ago. A rush of nausea works through Renee's stomach, but she beats it back because Alexandria won't actually get hurt. This is a ruse, a lie. A necessity.

"Who are you people? She's a civilian!" Adam's face turns red, his grip on Renee's forearm tightening enough to bruise. He flashes her a dark look. "You don't want to make an enemy out of me. You hurt my wife, and there will be no measure to how hard I will fuck you up."

Jack's voice cuts in, cold. "Let Renee go."

After a moment of hesitation, Adam shoves Renee forward. She stumbles a bit, and when she reaches Jack, his hands are soft and gentle when he pulls her bindings free.

"You all right?"

She nods, looking back at Adam. "We need to find out where Luka and Anya went."

Jack tugs her attention back to him. "Are you all right, Renee?"

Most people wouldn't hear it, the soft undercurrent of concern, but it speaks volumes to her. She suddenly imagines the scenario from his point of view – the runaround he must have gotten from Division and CTU since yesterday, his inability to reach Renee, the lack of progress only to find out that she's been marched back into a situation that could only astutely be called her worst nightmare. On any given day, he worries about her more than he lets on. Today, she imagines that might be tenfold – justifiably.

"I'm fine," she says, and means it, if only for his sake.

It's necessary to come up with a new plan.

Renee knows that Adams has to exonerate her, but Luka and Anya would expect the vetting to go on until late in the evening. They have at least another hour to get their stories straight so they return to the factory. Jack ties up Adam in the same chair he used in torturing Renee, while she cleans up in the bathroom again. Her injuries could be worse. The damage is all muscular and superficial, if ugly looking. The worst is a dark purple bruise that's forming over her lower back.

She doesn't wash away the tacky coat of sweat on her skin – it wouldn't do for her to march back to the Dmitri family smelling fresh, so Renee doesn't do much in the bathroom other than clean wounds and splash some water on her face. Her hair hangs limply around her face, and there are dark circles around her eyes that make her pale skin look almost sickly.

She strips down to her bra and jeans, cleaning up as best as she can but halfway through the door opens and Jack enters. When he looks her over, she feels naked for far more reasons that just her state of undress. He approaches from behind, and she doesn't flinch away when his fingers brush the light bruising on her lower back.

"How're you doing?"

Renee reaches for the faucet and runs her hands under the tepid cool water. "Been better, but the bruising doesn't feel as bad as it looks."

"That's usually the case," Jack replies softly because, of course, he would know. His fingers are still feathery light on her skin. "Renee, you should have told me this was going down."

She sighs heavily. "You've made your feelings about going back under perfectly clear."

"And I haven't made my feelings for you clear?"

"This wasn't about us, Jack. You've heard about the virus. You know what's at stake."

"There's always some deal like that going on. There's always some threat—"

Renee turns around, bringing them face-to-face. "If anyone can understand what I'm trying to do, I thought it'd be you. After everything you've done for this country—"

"I'm worried about you," Jack counters. "Six months ago, you went through a lot – more than anyone had a right to ask of you."

"This isn't the same thing."

"Yeah? Then why did I walk into CTU to find out that you were being tortured?"

She flinches away, angry. That isn't fair. He knows better than anyone that sometimes the situation gets out of control. She knows he's wired tight, and all of this is just frustration letting loose. Frustration that's probably been building ever since she left him that voicemail yesterday. But it still isn't fair for him to unload on her like this, especially when if the tables had been turned, Jack would have made the same exact decisions she did.

She turns away and reaches for her shirt again.

"Hey, hey," he stops her with a hand on her forearm, and his voice drops, this time far more gentle. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, it's just… I was worried about you. I just wish you would have told me what was going down."

He pulls her into a hug, and for a second, she's still defensive and on edge. But a second later, her body melts into his and she suddenly can't remember why they were fighting in the first place. His arms close tighter around her, and she just feels so exhausted. The day's events catch up with Renee, and she could stay here cocooned in his arms for hours if circumstances would just permit it.

Jack, she wants to say, Thank you for coming.

She knows he'd never hear it, though

When Renee finally emerges from the bathroom, Jack is still interrogating Adam. The symmetry of the scene in front of her, one that mirrored her own position an hour back, isn't lost on her. She spots a bottle of Tylenol in the corner, and snags it along with a bottled water. She can only take a couple of pills but nothing stronger because she doesn't want painkillers affecting her reflexes.

Jack looks up when he sees her approaching, and lifts off the chair. "Luka and Anya are up to some sort of arms deal, but Adam doesn't know the details yet. They're playing this close to the chest. He just knows the name of their buyer. I've already sent CTU agents to apprehend and detain them."

She glances over to Adam in the far corner of the room. "You believe him?"

Jack follows her gaze, staring at Adam. "I've convinced him that we're part of a terrorist group, and that we're willing to torture and mutilate his wife if he doesn't cooperate. He's scared. He'll do whatever we tell him to."

Renee pauses, disquieted. The fact that they're using an innocent woman as leverage disturbs her, even if it was Renee's idea in the first place. Renee has no love lost for Adam, but she wishes they didn't have to drag his wife into this. Alexandria's only crime is being married to an asshole.

"Where is she now?"

"At CTU."

Renee shakes her head, and a part of her wants to take solace in the cold comfort that at least the good guys have Alexandria in their custody, but then something else occurs to Renee. Quietly, she slips off her earpiece and holds it tightly in her fists so that it cuts off sound reception.

She hesitates, then says, "I've been thinking about that, actually. I'm not sure CTU is secure."

That gets Jack's immediate attention. "What are you talking about?"

"Back, before, Luka said he heard rumors that I was there when Vladimir died. But everyone there that day is dead, Jack. I killed Vladimir and you took out the rest of his men. Where is he getting this information from, then?"

Jack follows her thinking instantly. "The only people that knew were CTU agents."

"And now the FBI."

Jack curses under his breath. "Goddamnit."

"It's nothing definitive," Renee tacks on, quickly. "If someone gave Luka proof of my involvement, I'd be dead right now. He only had rumors to go off of."

"Rumors are enough to get you killed."

Well, tortured at the very least.

Renee forces out a deep breath, then thinks it over as she pops two pills into her mouth and swallows them with a gulp of water. God, she's tired. She shakes the thought loose and refocuses. Despite the urgency of the situation and the fact that neither of them can afford a single misstep, especially something as calamitous as a CTU leak, something in Renee wards her off. Something isn't right about this theory. She just can't pinpoint what.

"I trust Janis," she tells him. "We can use her to track down the leak."

Jack doesn't look like he likes that idea. "Are you sure? You haven't been working with Janis for years."

"We had a falling out because I went off the reservation – not because she did. Janis is a straight arrow. She always has been."

"She might have to break some protocol to do what we're asking her," Jack warns. "Is she up for that?"

Renee freezes for a beat, because as much as she wants to believe it, she isn't sure she can ask that much of Janis anymore. Once upon a time, Janis would have done anything for her, but that was what landed their friendship in hot water in the first place. Renee had forced Janis into some questionable circumstances – once, even, at gunpoint.

A person couldn't just mend bridges after something like that. Their friendship didn't break so much as ebb away, awkwardness and uncertainty taking the place of the camaraderie that thrived between them years ago.

"Yes," Renee responds, with far more confidence than she feels. "I'll handle it."

Jack nods. "I'll finish questioning Adam and figure out what we're going to be telling the Dmitris."

"Janis, are you there?"

The voice comes back over her earpiece. "I can read you loud and clear, Renee. God, how're you doing?"

"I'm fine."

"Good, because most people wouldn't be after what you just went through."

Renee turns away because she doesn't want to talk about the torture. "Janis, I need you to put me on a secure line for a moment – just you and me."

Janis pauses uneasily. "Okay." A few seconds later, she comes back on. "We're clear."

Renee runs a hand through her hair. "Look, Janis, I have reason to believe that someone on the joint-task force has leaked or is leaking information to the Russians." After spending a few brief moments stating her reasons, Renee doesn't sugarcoat the indelicate position she's putting Janis in. "It's going to get messy, but something needs to be done. I know we're asking a lot, but—"

"You need me to find the leak," Janis cuts in, knowingly, releasing a tense exhale that's audible even over the radio waves. "God, I hate this. Doesn't CTU run background checks on their people?"

"Any place can be infiltrated," Renee informs, "even the FBI. This is a joint-task force, Janis. Look wherever you have to."

Dead silence reigns. Renee wants to say more, but she isn't exactly sure what.

"Yeah," Janis says eventually, with a touch of that wry humor that does little to cover up her anxiety. "No problem. I'll just break rules and a few interagency protocols, and stick my nose where no one wants it. I'm sure it'll make me new friends."

"Thanks, Janis."

"You'll owe me one for this."

Renee almost smiles, and for a beat, it feels just like old times. "We'll add it to the running tab."

"What's the plan now?" she asks Jack.

Jack has his inventory of guns and supplies out on display, sleeves rolled up his forearms. "Adam takes you in to meet back up with Luka and Anya. I've already gone over with him exactly what he has to say. He's clear on the terms. He'll vouch for you."

"What about you?"

"I'll stay back and watch from a distance until you call me in."

Renee catches on quickly. "As a competing buyer?"

Jack nods. "Ernst Meier."

She almost does a double take, because she never forgets a name and she wouldn't forget this one in particular. "That's the name of the German arms dealer you played six months ago with Laitanan."

"You actually gave me the idea when you mentioned the Germans before."

Renee can see the pieces fall into place. "We worked together for two years in Mexico City. Same story, same details as before. We already know the cover."

Jack nods again. "CTU will take out the original buyer. When Anya and Luka find out that their plan is falling apart, you suggest me in as a competing bid. I'll come in, and we'll work the operation together. Until then, I'll be watching from a distance."

Renee lets a tense exhale loose. "Sounds like a plan."

She sheaths a small gun along her calf and once again reminds Adam to play this out exactly like they agreed, but he just grunts once in acknowledgement and tells her to get in the fucking truck. It's close to sunset by the time Adam drives them to the meeting point, and it isn't remotely what Renee is expecting. She allows him to escort her up the front lawn of an isolated multi-million dollar mansion, some forty minutes out of the city limits.

The place is beautifully decorated with a rustic, antique feel. When they enter, she finds there are pieces of furniture that she suspects to be decades old, some possibly centuries. There are no pictures of people that Renee can see from the foyer, but it has the feeling of old money. The Dmitri family is entirely new to money; Anya and Luka made their fortune and fame from the ashes of a poor, broken home in northern Bronx.

This house isn't theirs. They're just temporarily using it.

"Renee," Anya greets, from the top of the grand staircase. Renee half expects her to glide down the staircase like a high-class hostess greeting her guest, but then behind her, two armed guards with AK-47 flank her as she descends and it ruins the image a little. "I knew you'd clear Adam's test."

Beside her, Adam grunts. "Yeah, well… she checked out."

"Did she, now?"

Renee forces a grim smile, eyes dark. "I'm standing here, aren't I? What does that tell you?"

Anya's gaze slides over to Adam, and when he fails to add anything to the conversation, Anya turns her attention back to Renee. The scrutiny is harsh and judgmental, and Renee stands stiff. She has to play this smart – she can't be too friendly; these people just put her through torture, and Renee didn't earn her reputation among the Russians as being a pushover. She can't play it too angry either; she still needs Anya to think she's willing to work with them.

"It had to be done," Anya says at last. "We don't trust easily. We needed to confirm your story."

"Yeah, well, Adam made the calls, and he asked me all the questions. Can we move on, now?"

Anya gives a small laugh. She gestures once and they follow her around the corner to the living room where there's a wet bar. "Anything to drink?"

Renee thinks it over. "Vodka. Double shot."

Anya pours both of them a glass. "You can clean up upstairs. Feel free to raid the closet to find a fresh change of clothes. You'll be comfort—"

"Cut the bullshit, Anya," Renee interrupts. "I didn't come here for a nightcap and free night's stay at Casa de Dmitri. I want in."


"With whatever you have going down tonight. I'm not an idiot. You've got a score of some type. I can help."

"You don't even know what the deal is," Anya counters.

"I'm resourceful in many ways," Renee returns as takes the glass of vodka. "I'm sure I'll make myself useful."

Anya lifts an eyebrow. "Why don't you go clean up, Renee? I want to talk with Adam first."

She turns back to trade a quick look with Adam, and with it, a subtle threat. He better stick to the plan. It's clear Anya is too smart to let Renee into the game just yet, but with Adam's help, she might get her foot in the door soon enough.

Reluctantly, Renee slams back the shot of vodka and walks away.

She runs into Luka at the top of the second floor. He looks surprised to see her, and then a little suspicious, and Renee can't help it – she has to get in a little jab. "What?" Renee asks. "Disappointed to see me in one piece?"

Luka's eyes barely flicker. "No, I'm sure Adam did a… thorough interrogation."

"He was a peach," Renee assures him, wryly. "You can go down and ask him, yourself. Your sister's getting the information right now."

Luka regards her with a cool stare, then descends a step, bringing them face-to-face. The proximity is closer than she likes. It reminds her of the fact that Luka just spent the last five years of his life in prison, and she hopes that this isn't his fucked up idea of flirting. He was never a Casanova, but prison tends to make a man a lot less refined than what he was going in.

"The second door on your left," he tells her.


"To clean up," Luka replies, then brushes past her without another glance. "The room on the second door to your left. And hurry. We've got plans for tonight."

Renee stares after him until he's out of sight. The bedroom turns out to be small, but tasteful. Renee removes her jacket with a wince, feeling sore muscles, then throws it across the back of a high-rise chair. She glances around the place, then opens up the closet to rummage through clothes. She pulls out a spare t-shirt, this one red, and decides to keep the slim jeans she has on because nothing else in the closet looks like it'll fit. When she's about to close the closet door, that's when she notices it – a small camera, almost hidden, affixed to the upper left corner of the room.

Son of a bitch.

Anger rolls through her. Renee takes the spare clothes into the connecting bathroom, where she searches and finds another camera. Jesus, she'll only be able to communicate with Jack in the shower stall. Left with no other option, she starts the water and strips, quickly slipping into the shower.

Thankfully, the earpiece that CTU supplied her can withstand the water without interrupting reception. "Jack," she says under the stream of the shower, waiting for a response from her earpiece. "What's happening?"

"CTU just to— out the buyer," Jack informs over the noise of the shower.

She presses a hand over her ear, straining to listen. "Say again?"

His voice comes back louder, clearer. "CTU just took out the buyer. Three casualties, and none of the captured seem willing to speak. It doesn't matter. We proceed exactly as planned."

Renee sighs heavily, then rests back against the tiled walls. And then, abruptly, for no reason that she can discern, she has a sudden flashback to six months ago. To the bathroom, as she stepped out of the shower to find Vladimir – the way he had called to her. Renee, come here. She must go quiet for too long because Jack's voice in her ear brings her back to reality.

"Yeah," she recovers with a fumble, clearing her throat. "Proceed as planned."

More emotion must slip into the words than she intends, because Jack goes quiet for a beat before he breathes her name – a soft utterance, the same one she only hears at night when she wakes from the thick fog of a nightmare to find herself in his arms. She can imagine so many things he's thinking in the hush that follows – whether she's up for this, whether she has what it takes to do this right this time.

For a beat, she's not sure that she can.

Old doubts fester, and she's still so tired and emotionally exhausted from before, but it's no excuse because she knows Jack's been in this position more than once, post-torture, and he's never faltered. Neither can she.

"Tell me something interesting," she says, suddenly, out of the blue.


She closes her eyes and shakes her head. "Tell me something interesting. I don't know what. Something, anything. Just not having to do with Russians and deadly virus and—" she breaks off, sighing as resignation floods her. Suddenly she feels foolish. "You know what? Never mind. Just forget it."

She thinks he's let it go, but after a lull in conversation, Jack's voice breaks the hush. "I met your sister."

Renee goes still. "What?"

"Earlier today, your sister picked me up from the airport."

For a full two seconds, she can't for the life of her imagine that meeting – Jack Bauer and her ultra free-spirited sister. Nor does she particularly want to imagine the circumstances that led up to it. Jack can be… intense when he's on a mission for something. She doubts Zoey responded well to that.

"What happened?"

"Nothing really. She seemed nice."

"Nice?" she repeats dubiously.

"Yeah. What? Your sister isn't normally nice?" He pauses. "Though she did think I was overreacting to your absence. She actually called me a worry-wart."

She stifles a hefty laugh. "I'm sorry I missed that."

"She reminded me a little of Kim, actually."

"They're all like that at that age," Renee returns.

She clears her throat, suddenly remembering herself and the situation again. But the brief levity goes a long way, and she feels just a little bit better than before. Jack always manages to do that. She wonders if he has any idea just how much he can affect her mood – how easily. She doubts it. For such an astute man, he can be utterly oblivious about some things.

That's part of his charm, though.

By the time Renee is downstairs again, things have progressed faster than she anticipated. She walks into the living room to find brother and sister yelling at each other across the room, and they're using Russian words that are never used in polite company.

"Пошёл на хуй!" Luka barks. "We shouldn't be playing with these things, Anya. It's too dangerous."

"По-моему, это хуйня," Anya returns, taunting. She turns to one of her men, ordering with a bark, "Принеси мне эту хуёвину."

Renee stays back, half hidden by shadows as one of Anya's men rushes off to retrieve something valuable. For a second, Renee hopes against hope that it's the SRX Virus, but that's wishful thinking and she knows it. Anya is impetuous, not stupid. She'd never leave something like that lying around a mansion like this. No, it's going to be somewhere far more secure.

"You're just scared," Anya continues, "This is an opportunity of a lifetime! We can't just let it slip through our fingers, Luka!"

"We don't have a buyer!"

"Then we get another!"

Renee makes her presence known. "Am I interrupting something?"

Both freeze instantly, apparently having forgotten that Renee is on the same planet as them, much less the same house. Luka eyes her with a hostile look, but Anya's is more calculating than cold.

"Renee," Anya says suddenly. "Adam tells me you worked with an arms dealer in Mexico City a year back?"

Renee nods. "Yeah."

"You still in contact with him?"

She lets the question linger for a second, pretending to think about it. "I can reach him, yeah."

"What's his name?"

"Ernst Meier. He works for the Germans. What's this all about?"

Luka and Anya trade looks, and then, with a frustrated sigh and some colorful Russian, Luka finally relents. He nods his head to Anya, and Renee finds herself hearing the words she's been waiting to hear since this entire operation began – though with an unexpected twist.

"Tomorrow, we're getting our hands on three cases of the SRX virus."

Renee shows surprise and it's only half-an-act. She thought Anya already had possession of the virus, but things are apparently a bit more complicated than that. That means another player is in the game.

"From who? From where?"

Luka steps forward. "That doesn't concern you." He turns to Adam. "You ever heard of him? This Meier guy?"

For a beat, Adam freezes, an angry vein in his neck flexing. "Yeah," he says at length. "He's legit – and exactly the type of man we need right now."

Renee almost exhales in relief, and when Anya instructs them to tell her more, Renee has the fleeting thought that this is almost too easy. This, usually, is when the shit hits the fan. Still, never look a gift horse in the mouth, she tells herself. Renee slides into a nearby chair, and she has Anya's undivided attention.

Luka, on the other hand, just looks pissed.

When Jack finally arrives at the mansion, it's after two million dollars is wired to an offshore account as a good faith payment for the SRX virus. Luka greets him at the door, and the two men shake hands like civilized business acquaintances. The sight is almost amusing, and Luka proves far more hospitable to Jack than he's ever been to Renee. She suspects it's a combination of chauvinism and greed.

Two million dollars would make almost any host eager to please their guest.

"Renee," Jack greets her, when she steps into view.

"Meier," she returns coolly.

Luka drops a bag on the floor. "Let's get down to business. Renee and Adam assure me that you're the type of man we might be interested in doing trade with. You know the details?"

"Renee mentioned enough on the phone," Jack replies. "Three cases of the SRX virus."

"Available to you as soon as tomorrow morning. We wanted to meet tonight to get to know each other. I don't like working with people I don't know. It's Russian tradition, you understand? Business partners should always be friends."

Jack's eyes darken, trading a look with Luka that expresses his opinion of that with caustic overtones. "With all due respect, I don't give a damn about your traditions. I prefer to maintain a professional distance. My clients appreciate discretion."

"I'm sure they do, but you want to do business with us, then you must know that Russians never get into bed with a partner without knowing exactly who they are." Luka pauses, pointedly. "Though I'm sure Renee has already made you familiar with this concept. She spoke very highly of you."

The jab is neither subtle nor amusing, but Renee forces herself not to react. It's not surprising that everyone assumes she's in bed with "Meier." Besides, she has no problem with letting others think that – it's close enough to the truth.

Jack stares at Luka with a frigid stare, but Luka doesn't even flinch. "Come," Luka says, gesturing. "Relax. Enjoy our hospitality. By the morning, we should be like old friends."

Renee knows that Jack has no option left but to play along – for now.

Things almost feel surreal when Renee finds herself sandwiched between Jack and Luka at dinner. The long mahogany table has enough food to feed twice their number, and despite the fact that she's barely eaten anything all day, her appetite is defeated by an uneasy case of anxiety. She has no idea what Luka is doing, playing this game, but he subjects both of them to a series of questions during dinner, half of which are innocuous and the other half downright prosecutorial.

Jack and Renee, of course, handle it as best they can. Even if they hadn't gone over their cover together in detail, Renee has always shared a simpatico with Jack that she can hardly describe with words. They play off each other easily, the coordinated lies falling into place.

"So how did you two meet?" Anya asks, curiously.

"In Tripoli," Jack answers. "Three years ago. I wanted to handle some sensitive material in a timely fashion, and I needed someone to babysit the material as it made its way across Libya. Renee turned out to be skillful. We've been in close partnership ever since."

"Except," Luka cuts in with a smile that's disingenuous at best, threatening at worst, "during the last six months, I imagine?" Jack looks over, but he doesn't bother to answer because there isn't really a question behind the statement. Renee Zadan spent the last six months in jail. "So, this is a reunion then?" Luka prods. "How touching."

"Forgive my brother," Anya interjects wryly. "He's an asshole."

Adam walks through the side door. "Luka, we gotta talk. Something's come up."

Beside her, Renee can feel Jack stiffen ever so slightly. She doubts others pick up on it, but Renee does because she's fighting back the same urge. Adam, thus far, has been the perfect puppet for them, but she can sense the restrained hostility beneath the surface and every time he speaks with Anya or Luka in private, Renee can't fight down a sense of foreboding panic.

While Luka attends to the business, Anya leans over to Jack. "Meier, it's getting late and we have an early morning tomorrow. You're free to use one of the spare bedrooms upstairs. My men will escort you there." She turns to Renee. "Renee, I need to speak with you in private."

Anya leaves the table, and after exchanging another quiet look with Jack, Renee gets up to follow her. Anya delays the conversation until Jack is out of the room, headed upstairs. Suspicion darkens her eyes.

"I know that man from somewhere," she tells Renee. "Where has Meier done business in the last decade?"

Renee stares at her, her lips parting slightly, both out of surprise and incredulity. "What? You know I can't tell you more details than he's willing to say. He protects his former clients, and that includes locations." Renee continues in a confused voice, "You… you think you've done business with Meier before?"

"No," Anya refutes swiftly. "But he looks familiar and I can't place where I know him from. Is it possible that he worked in the US during the past decade?"

Renee has to think fast. "Only in the last few months. Before that, he avoided the states. Too much has happened since 9/11 to make our lives more difficult."

Anya nods, still looking suspicious. "He looks very familiar."

For a beat, a sickening thought occurs to Renee. Jack Bauer is notorious among many circles – an infamy that was helped along by the press, especially during the senate hearings two years ago. His face had been splashed across every newspaper from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic. How ironic would it be to come all this way and jump through so many hoops to gain the Dmitri family's trust, only to have everything undone because of a long-forgotten news article that Anya once saw in passing?

When Luka reenters the room, he appears upset and sends Anya a pointed look that leaves her waving the topic of Jack quickly away. "Never mind. Go, rest for the night, Renee. I'll see you in the morning."

The abrupt dismissal sends warning bells off in Renee's head, and she's desperately curious about the development that seems to have Luka on edge. She has little choice but to follow orders, though. She exits the room to leave the two siblings to talk amongst themselves.

She climbs the stairs back to the small bedroom they'd given her earlier. She has no idea what room Jack has, but she knows better than to go wandering around the house. It'd raise too much suspicion. She feels like a trapped rat – or worse, a trained pet. For a few minutes, Renee paces the length of the bedroom, nervous and restless, all too aware of the camera affixed in the corner that watches her every move. Shaking her head, she walks to the window where silver moonlight fills the night sky. The light from the nearby street lamp pools into misty yellow circles on the road, and she can hear the faint sound of incoherent, murmured whispers from below.

Something is wrong. Something is deadly wrong.

It's only a matter of minutes before a quiet knock sounds on her door. Jack is waiting outside and she tosses a look around to find his guards waiting at the end of the corridor. She steps back, allowing him to enter, and when she shuts the door behind her, she realizes what needs to happen now.

Jack starts speaking, "Renee, we need to—"

The searching pressure of her lips finds his. Whether or not he's surprised, she can't tell because after a beat he's following her lead. Jack frames her face with his hands, and his tongue strokes, seeking invitation that she readily gives. She sets the tempo of the kiss as insistent, all open-mouthed and tongue, her fingers dragging along his scalp.

There are only so many reasons he'd visit her this late in the night, and Renee sees no problem in feeding into the idea of them sleeping together. It's better than raising suspicions that they're colluding. And if they're supposed to be lovers, long estranged because Renee Zadan allegedly spent the last six months in jail, the kiss shouldn't be simple or polite. Renee takes advantage of that and Jack returns the favor by pulling her tight against him, hands moving down over the small of her back, under her shirt.

Mind awhirl, he edges her body against the wooden cabinet, pressing her against the oak until she breaks the kiss with an audible gasp. "Where's the camera?" he breathes into her ear, and she nods her head to lead him to the mark.

He follows her gaze, and then suddenly she's whirled around and backed up against the next wall. He pins her there, hands bracketed on either side of her – and he sneaks a glance at the camera. The maneuver places them almost out of sight, but it still isn't good enough. Renee is too busy being distracted by his use of force, one that surprises her even if she knows that Jack is feeding into the role as much as she is. His broad shoulders and arms are solid beneath her grip as he pushes her up against the wall, and for a second, despite herself, her body responds to the proximity of him.

The next kiss is intense and aggressive, not at all like the kisses she's used to from him. He always starts off slow and tempered, and it takes a second for her to remember that it's usually in respect to issues… well, to issues all named Vladimir Laitanan. Still, they've done plenty enough before, but this feels different, more intense.

Trying to focus, Renee realizes that they need to move to a place where there aren't any listening devices. "Shower," she whispers, then leads Jack towards the bathroom like some siren seductress. They fumble backwards towards the connecting bathroom, still kissing, until she's passed the threshold and they can slam the door closed behind them.

Jack's tongue slides against her mouth, doing all types of reckless things to her control, and she moans and plants one hand around his belt buckle, desperate to undo the cinch. The other hand is around his jeans, cupping the tight curve of his ass, encouraging him to rock into her. God, this is… she realizes this might get out of hand. She's been with Jack for months now, and he's always kept his own libido in check in deference to her. Now they're performing for an audience of Russian mobsters, and Jesus, this should feel wrong – it should feel like a violation or something. But arousal strokes between her thighs, a building tide, and Renee realizes she's fooling herself as much as anyone watching.

Jack pulls away to start the shower. As the rush of water fills the air, he steps back and they both fumble to strip while kissing, until their clothes litter the floor. Jack positions himself in front of her, blocking the camera, and she almost laughs because even now, even here, he's trying to protect her or whatever semblance of her modesty that he can. The steam from the shower is already filling the bathroom, but all Renee feels is deliciously warm breath on her mouth, hot and suffocating.

They fumble into the stall together, instantly soaked, and the door closes after them. They break from kissing almost immediately but they don't separate. He leans heavily against her for a moment, and she's trapped against the tiled wall and Renee almost doesn't want to move. What's happening now is testing their limits and restraints, and Renee can feel the evidence of his hard arousal against her thigh.

"Renee," Jack begins in a heavy voice, one that was made for the bedroom, "We should… We can't…" he trails off, but it doesn't matter because she knows. They can't get distracted. "Christ," he curses softly in frustration.

"I know," she says for him, because she does.

He nods, and she can feel his slick muscles under her palms, the water cascading down his back as he brackets her against the wall. Their bodies are pressed naked against each other, flush from top to bottom, and there's no hiding his arousal or dismissing hers.

She tries to refocus back on business. "Something's wrong. Luka looked upset."

Jack pulls back, just barely.

"I don't know why," she continues. "But Adam knows. He's the one that pulled Luka aside. We need to get to him."

Jack nods. "I'll talk to Adam."

Renee's eyes fall to his lips again. For a woman that's had a mental block when it comes to sex these last few months, there's something in her is now that's goading Renee past her normal restraints. She doesn't mean to, but it's like she can't stop herself. She pulls him back down for another kiss, this time slow and seductive, the deliberate intent behind it enough to ebb Jack's defenses away. She's not thinking about the Russians downstairs, or Vladimir, or any number of the hang ups she's faced in her messy life. In that moment, it's just Jack – this is Jack. She's safe with him.

It's Jack, and she loves him.

She drags a hand through his hair, and decides impulsively, fuck it. She's been hiding from this long enough – maybe this push is exactly what she needs to get over her longstanding intimacy problems? Her hand trails down past his sternum, then she wraps her fingers around his erection, squeezing with just the right pressure. Jack sucks in a breath of surprise, but there's hardly protest. When she slides her finger up and down, she can feel tension line his body, his hands clenched into fists at her sides. The image he is in that moment is one of the most deeply erotic images she has ever seen.

But he pulls back, forcing Renee to loosen her grip. Jack is gentle with her – so reverent. He places a warm kiss along her collarbone, and gentle hands slide over her belly before he releases a harsh breath and steps back.

"We can't," he tells her in a low voice. "Not like this. Not here. I don't want you to regret this."

It stuns her a little, that Jack can have so much control, so much restraint when she knows he wants this as much as she does – probably a lot more. Still, he's always looking out for her, and doing this – here, now – it isn't the right way. She wanted to forget it for a second, but Jack won't let himself do the same. After a beat, Renee feels something dislodge in her throat, like a breath she hadn't realized she was holding in. He steps clear of the water, grabs a nearby towel and wraps it around his waist before stepping out.

"Hey," she calls at the last second, causing him to turn around. "When this op is over…"

She trails off, but Jack smiles because he knows where she's going with the statement. Renee returns the smile, watching him leave the bathroom, and for a moment afterwards, she rests back against the wall, letting the stream of water wash over her.

That's when she hears a burst of gunfire from downstairs, echoing through the entire mansion.