Thank you to all of you who have stuck with this long story to the end. Like I've said before, there's something about Jack and Ramon that intrigues me and I had a blast writing this. Hopefully you did reading it.

If you like my fiction, please check out my site 24nmore(dot)com. We have about ten authors and hundreds of stories that are screened for quality. So you don't have to worry whether the story is well written. We also have many different pairings, AU, canon, and all levels from G to very mature. There's something for everyone. If you are interested in posting your own fiction on the site contact me or any other admin...OR...register and publish on our forum. That's a place for new authors to show their stuff.

In addition, we are a real 24 community with a shout box, chat room, forum discussions and information, pictures, videos and news about Kiefer and the other actors and people associated with 24. With the end of the show, it's a great place to get your 24 fix.

In Mexico Epilogue

Epilogue

The door to the interrogation room opened. Was it relief or disappointment he felt when the DEA agent entered followed by his lawyer? It was the same every time he'd sat here, waiting to see who wanted a piece of him this time. Almost four weeks had passed. He knew, for the government's case, Jack would have to show up sooner or later. It appeared Jack wanted it to be later.

Despite Jack's glaring absence, Ramon harbored no disillusions that Jack wasn't working behind the scenes, controlling his interrogations…and probably his entire imprisonment. On the ranch, he'd been impressed with Jack, but Ramon hadn't even begun to fathom the depth to which he'd been manipulated until days had passed after his arrest.

It had taken time, to adjust to the surreal induction into the confinement and routines of the Federal prison, for him to settle enough to contemplate what had happened. He'd been totally and completely had. That Jack had been able to pull off a six month charade, had taken everything he dished out, was more than amazing. Ramon still had difficulty finding the right words to describe what Jack had done.

At first, he'd found amusement in the situation…how completely he'd been snowed. But as the days passed and he missed his life, food, woman, freedom…and power…he grew angry. He wanted to kill Jack.

Ramon wondered if during those days he'd held Jack in that bedroom…when he beat him or made him hurt…if, in his head, Jack had been imagining the day the tables would turn. But he knew. He knew that to survive what had been done to him, Jack would picture the day he would arrest Ramon and have his ultimate revenge.

Ramon knew because that's what he would have done. But he suspected he would never have had the discipline to stick with it as long as that son of a bitch had. Hell, he could have taken the pain…but the humiliation and subservience…never. If he were in Jack's place, Ramon would have lashed out and killed anyone who did that to him. And maybe that's exactly why Jack had won. Ultimately, it had been Jack in control all along. Jack simply had more control than Ramon.

What a shame, Ramon thought not for the first time, that Jack had devoted all that talent to law enforcement. What a waste.

His lawyer was speaking to him. Ramon turned his attention to him only when he pushed a pile of papers over the worn grey laminate of the table towards him. They droned on, the lawyer and the drug agent. Ramon tried to pay attention, but he just didn't care. The drugs were nothing. They'd tried to get him on these charges before. Yes, they had more this time thanks to Jack, but he'd get off. It was the terrorist connections that might bring him down. He'd pay attention when that action began. When Jack showed up.

They finished and left, leaving the papers on the table for him to read before he was taken back to his cell…back to a night of watching the paint crack and wishing for a woman. He was on the third page when the door reopened. Ramon didn't bother to look up.

"I'm not done yet," he said gruffly. "All this legal bullshit is just too fascinating. I don't want to read too quickly and miss something."

"Ramon."

The voice was unmistakable. Ramon stopped but didn't look up, unsure of how he wanted to act. He almost smiled. Ramon had never been unsure of much in his life. Jack Bauer had changed that as well.

When he finally looked, Jack was standing just inside the closed door. His dark grey suit was impeccably tailored. He wore a pale blue tie on a crisp white shirt. His hair was cut and trimmed perfectly as he stood there, his hands relaxed at his sides, his eyes focusing hard in a serious and slight squint at Ramon.

If Ramon had planned to try to belittle Jack, to intimidate him, it would have failed. He saw that immediately. Even knowing the truth, for the month, his image of Jack was of the man he'd seen on an almost daily basis. Often dirty and sweaty, usually dressed in work shirts and boots. This was not Jack Briggs that stood in front of him. Except for that one little tic that both Jacks carried, Ramon noted. Jack's right hand slowly opened and closed in the gesture he'd come to know as an expression of tension.

"Agent Bauer," Ramon greeted in the same tone. Under the well put together exterior, the man he'd known was there. The same man he'd abused and intimidated…and worked with and respected. Maybe Jack had never felt it, but Ramon had felt close to Jack at times. He'd foreseen a future with Jack eventually seeing it too as his initiations and tests receded into the past…as they became partners.

He saw Jack's eyes dart up at the security camera on the ceiling and knew they mutually shared a desire that they could meet in private.

"Are they listening?" Ramon asked.

"No," Jack said, approaching the table. "I made sure if it." He put one hand in his pocket. "How are you, Ramon?"

"Just great, Jack," he smiled ironically, "couldn't be better."

"Please sit down," Ramon said, gesturing to the prison chair, the vinyl seat ripped and fraying in more than one spot. "I'm sorry I can't offer you a drink."

Ramon had almost said I'm sorry I can't get Claudia to get you a drink, but had realized that teasing Jack might not be in his best interest. He was glad he hadn't when Jack didn't move and his face remained serious. It struck him now, the disparity. Ramon might act it, but he wasn't in charge anymore.

"CTU has completed the investigation. We'll be bringing charges on Monday." Jack walked away from the table to stand in front of the blank side of the two way mirror. He stared off into nothingness as he spoke. He didn't know how he'd feel seeing Ramon again. That was one of the reasons he'd waited—and to get the case together and let Ramon sweat a little.

But when he had walked into the room, time had vanished. Those last few weeks, and that last night on the ranch, were back the instant he had seen Ramon. But the grey room and Ramon's prison clothes made the difference. He could knock on the door and walk out. Ramon could not. Jack thought it was unfortunate that he had to force himself to remember that as Ramon's presence briefly threatened to smother him. He turned and went to the empty chair, but stood behind it instead of sitting down.

"You came here to tell me that personally, Jack?"

"Yes, Ramon, I did," he said evenly, not letting Ramon's cocky tone bait him. He would be seeing a lot of Ramon in the forthcoming weeks. He had wanted this first meeting to happen alone so he could feel Ramon…and himself…out.

A lot had happened in Mexico. If Ramon's tongue was loose, Jack knew he could handle the repercussions. It wouldn't be pleasant, but he could control and spin any investigations…inquiries into his conduct. He wanted an inkling of what to expect. And he wanted this nervous tension that filled the room out of the way before the real work began.

Choosing today to come here had been random, the charges just an excuse. He had needed this monkey off his back. As he stood there, he began to realize that seeing Ramon wouldn't change anything at all. For the most part, numbness still enveloped him.

The hard, closed exterior…the persona that had been Jack Briggs in fact…was what his colleagues at CTU saw on a daily basis. It had been the face he'd presented to Kate when he'd shown back up to claim his belongings and clear out from her house. It had been the exterior that deflected her emotion and protected him from breaking down when she had.

Work kept him around people all day, but the armor kept him alone, as he still wanted to be, too often still feeling just as foreign at 'home' as he had in Mexico.

They, Tony and Kate especially, didn't try to hide their concern for him. But he dismissed it. He was…or would be…okay. He tried, and there were moments when he was okay, until he was home, not working. Until he had time to think and the images from Mexico ran rampant in his mind. The images and memories making him feel foreign even in his own skin.

Frightened faces loomed in his memory. Those people had been frightened of him. He'd let himself become a monster for Ramon. The reasons he'd done it had faded. Only the acts themselves remained vivid, and without the justifications he'd placated himself with in Mexico, the acts were all that much more horrific.

Jack's evenings ended early. Each night he'd drink and tell himself he could make it. But each night he gave in to the memories without much of a fight, almost resigned to accepting the animal within when he pulled out the kit and waited for the high. But the heroin now came with its own pair of memories, imprinted on him on that last night and day on the ranch.

When he saw his hand on the syringe, it was Ramon's hand he felt. Some nights it was just a touch on his arm. But other nights it was his entire body on his, his chest bearing down hard, smothering him with his weight and with guilt.

Then Oscar would come. His young face would appear briefly, expressionless. His lips wouldn't move, but still Jack could hear his voice clearly. You were willing to kill me to save yourself. Then he was gone. Jack still hadn't come to terms with Oscar. The heroin would close down his brain before he had time to resolve to wrestle with his conscience.

So, now, standing in front of Ramon, he didn't really care what happened to him personally, as long as the case went smoothly.

"How've you been, Jack?" Ramon asked casually. Jack looked damn good. He'd put some weight back on and that made him look younger. Ramon paused to consider that he really didn't even know how old Jack was. All that background data he'd paid to have gathered and he'd studied intently…all that would have been fake.

But maybe not all, he reconsidered. The night that he'd drugged him…there'd been some truth in those words, those stories Jack had told. There'd been pain. And the history that had caused that pain had endowed whoever Jack Bauer was with the ability to play Jack Briggs.

Jack said nothing. Ramon couldn't read what he was feeling. He wasn't used to having his questions ignored and Jack knew it…was playing it. There'd been enough small talk. Jack and he had never bull shitted each other. Why should they start now?

"I always thought you were good, Jack…but I didn't know how good, did I?" Ramon sat straighter in his chair and threw the papers he was still holding onto the table. "Some of the things you did for me…" He shook his head and let his voice trail off. "Do your people know?"

"Not unless you tell them," Jack finally spoke. "And as far as I know, you didn't keep written documentation. So…if that's a threat…you can talk all you want." Jack was calm as he expressed himself. After all the lying, telling the truth was refreshingly easy. He sat down. If they did punish him, he deserved it anyway.

"Really, Jack?" Ramon said, sensing a bluff. "What of your reputation…your standing among your peers? What you did for me and, hell, what I did to you? Really…you wouldn't mind if I announced it to the DEA…or the Justice Department? You must be very, very good."

"I wasn't ignorant of what I was doing, Ramon. I did it knowing what the consequences could be. And I am willing to deal with them. Can you say the same?"

"Very good, Jack, turn this back to me." Ramon leaned his elbows on the table, which naturally brought him closer to Jack sitting across from him. "You think I have much more to atone for than you do…is that it?"

Jack said nothing.

"Of course you do," Ramon answered for him. "You think I have my whole life to pay penance for." He smiled smugly. "But you are wrong. I play a role. If I did not do it…someone else would fill the void. It is simply the nature of things in my world. But I am true to my nature. I know what I am." He paused. "Can you say the same, Agent Bauer? Do you even know your nature…what you are?"

Jack refused to debate good and evil with Ramon Salazar...especially as it pertained to him personally. With Ramon, everything was black and white. It was the grey engulfing Jack that was blocking his view of exactly what he was. But Ramon was damn perceptive, driving straight to the core of Jack's personal hell since he'd been back.

"What I am, Ramon, is the man that will bring you down. We aren't friends. We aren't partners. What you think I am or am not does not matter to me. You were a mission." Jack paused and picked up the DEA paperwork as illustration. "Now you are a case." He threw the papers back down to the table with a 'thwack' drawing Ramon's eyes down with them.

"Okay, Jack. Fair enough," Ramon conceded, feeling rebuffed and hiding it. Jack had been his challenge. And while he knew Jack was lying, downplaying the significance of what had happened to and between them the last six months, he couldn't help but feel slighted that Jack was implying the personal nature of their relationship had been one sided. Yes, Ramon had been cruel to him, he knew that. But with Jack, it had always been personal.

Jack stood.

Ramon didn't want Jack to go. He had thrived on the challenge of Jack on the ranch. Here, in this prison, the boredom and stupidity was oppressive. He wanted Jack. And he wanted to hurt Jack.

"You're still using, I assume?"

Jack turned to leave.

"You really don't care…if I tell them…about everything? And I mean everything, Jack."

Ramon heard a short laugh. When Jack turned back, he was still smiling…but it was a sad smile.

"No, Ramon…I really don't. I'm numb Ramon." He paused and shoved his hands into his pockets. "I guess I have you to thank for that. You taught me how to survive. What could they possibly do to me?" That could be worse than you have already done…or that I don't deserve. He finished the thought in his head.

Ramon saw the sadness in Jack's eyes and knew he wasn't bluffing.

Jack continued when Ramon didn't respond.

"Besides, Ramon, you and I both know that destroying me personally and professionally isn't your style. Is it? That's too petty and trifling for you."

He walked closer, remembering how, on the ranch, he'd never chance his life closing on Ramon if either of them were angry. This wasn't that fucking ranch. When Ramon stood, Jack was only worried the guards would burst in at a perceived threat to him. He almost wanted Ramon to hit him, to at least feel something, at least pain to go with the guilt. Maybe Jack wanted a return to their natural order. It had been easier when he could blame Ramon.

They were inches apart. Jack's voice was soft. "You and I both know you would only be satisfied with killing me…slowly and painfully." They stared at each other for a very long moment, both silently acknowledging the truth of that statement, Jack daring Ramon to lash out.

"That's how you work, Ramon," Jack finally said. "My job is to make sure you never have a chance to kill anyone again. Now you know how I work."

Ramon smirked. "Yes, Jack. Now I know exactly how you work."

"See you Monday, Ramon. Have a good weekend." He couldn't help the jab.

If Ramon responded as he strode out the door, Jack didn't hear him. He heard the gates closing behind him, their harsh metallic noise separating him physically from Ramon. He turned and looked behind him through all the bars. He remembered standing pressed up against Ramon in the courtyard that day and how familiar he'd felt…and how that had revolted him.

Ramon, just now, so close, hadn't felt familiar, he hadn't even smelled familiar. He'd smelled of cheap prison soap and starch.

Jack was surprised.

There was distance between them now…and Jack sensed, for the first time since he'd been home, that the separation wasn't merely physical. He didn't feel engulfed by Ramon's presence.

"Agent Bauer," the guard said behind him. Jack startled a little at the voice and turned to accept his gun being handed to him.

"Thank you," he said politely, turning back in the direction from which he'd come to catch a very brief glimpse of a cuffed and shackled Ramon Salazar being led away between two guards.

He wasn't Ramon. He wasn't Ramon's.

Chase met him outside the high security entrance.

"How'd it go?" Chase asked when Jack didn't say anything. They got in the car. Chase pulled out of the complex and, still, Jack was quiet. Chase was used to this. Jack had been like this since he'd been back. Everyone at CTU had seen the difference in him. And, secretly, everyone was waiting for him to blow, to release whatever was pent up inside.

"I'm hungry," Jack said out of the blue. He looked at his watch. "What do you say to a beer and some dinner?"

Chase, in the driver's seat, looked at Jack like he was some sort of alien presence.

Jack was staring out the window. He didn't see Chase's initial look of surprise, and he didn't see the wide smile that followed.

"That'd be great. I'm a little hungry too," Chase said evenly, trying to keep the surprised relief from his voice.

Chase just caught a glimpse of Jack's slight smile before he turned his attention back to the road.

"Good," Jack concluded, smiling wider to himself after Chase looked away.

Thanks for reading!