March 7

03:03 am

St. Andrew's Hospital, New York City

As another prolonged coughing episode comes to an end, Renee groans softly at the sharp pain in her chest and abdomen that refuses to let her go. Her jaw is shaking so hard from the discomfort now that she can feel her teeth lightly chattering. In an effort to ease it, she draws her lips between her teeth and bites down, then presses the button for what feels like the hundredth time in the last few minutes.

At this point, however, part of her wonders if the machine delivering the pain medication is empty or if it's even working anymore. Whatever the problem, she's painfully uncomfortable again.

"You really should try to get some sleep, Renee," she hears Cole comment from his chair near the window.

Easy for you to say, she counters silently, one hand still clutching the sheet while the other rests over her abdomen, tightly gripping the button that's supposed to trigger the doses of pain medication.

"Yeah," she breathes finally, attempting to focus on the increasingly blurring images drifting along on the TV hanging from the ceiling in the corner of the room.

She's been awake for a while now, having been driven from sleep by a dream too vivid and disturbing to allow her to easily doze off again. When she finally gave up the effort, she resorted to using the television to distract herself. From the dream. From the pain and the restlessness. From thinking about everything that's happened since she went in to CTU. Hell, from thinking about everything that's happened in the past eighteen months.

From thinking about Jack.

From worrying about Jack.

Mostly, she's been failing miserably. On all fronts.

She watches another few moments of the cable news program with the same disgust and anger that's been filtering through her since she turned on the TV then finally shuts it off, plunging the room into a state of semi-darkness lit only by the faintly glowing screens of the various medical machines and Cole's small laptop.

For the hour and forty-eight minutes she managed to stomach watching the various news programs, two things have been consistently clear: the press is having a field day and the political sharks are circling as another American presidency ends in disgrace.

A week after it happened, every cable news network remains obsessed with the shocking downfall of President Allison Taylor. She'd think that after this much time, they'd have exhausted the subject but if they have, they're clearly enjoying rehashing it. With Congress still debating the value of investigative hearings and with the AG reportedly close to filing official charges against her, the political pundits have been busy analyzing the situation to death.

If they weren't lambasting Taylor for her reported attempt to censor the press, they were discussing how she'd participated in a conspiracy or arguing the implications of her connection to Charles Logan. And of course, depending on the side of the fence the particular talking head was on, they were either declaring Taylor's actions a matter of "national security," "international safety and interests," and "greater good" or they were calling for her head.

Some argued that with the need to ease tensions with other countries, invoking a special prosecutor might appease them. Some countered that Taylor should be pardoned by Hayworth, claiming the treaty was ultimately more important than something that had already happened and was out of her control – a point to which still others responded with the declaration that a treaty built on murder and lies wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

The global implications of what's happened with the Russians and Hassan had also been generously displayed.

When they weren't obsessing over Taylor, most of the commentators seemed to be concentrating on the accusations against Suvarov and the repercussions that may result if his guilt – or innocence, as some pointed out – in Hassan's assassination is proven.

On one channel, she'd found a discussion about Dahlia Hassan's complaint to the UN and her claim that Taylor threatened her nation with a military strike if she didn't go through with the signing of the treaty.

As much as she'd liked what little she'd seen of her a week ago, she finds she doesn't envy Dahlia Hassan. On top of mourning her husband, the woman's first days as Acting President of the IRK have, it seems, been a trial by fire.

At least one station had been covering a protest-turned-riot that had erupted in the capital of the IRK earlier in the day. From the sound of things, it was far from the first of its kind in the last week.

Renee imagines it won't be the last, either.

The IRK isn't the only place where emotions are running high, of course. As she'd expect, the situation has stirred up demonstrations in the Russian Federation as well. And from what little she saw, the anti-American slogans there far outnumbered anti-IRK chants.

Apparently, there have also been marches and protests taking place in a number of American cities for days now. Spearheaded by members of various political groups, most of those gatherings appear to have been relatively peaceful but more than one has threatened to get out of hand and required riot police to be standing by. If the protests and marches continue, she imagines that things will eventually grow more and more disruptive.

Several channels also made mention in some way of how the UN is dealing with – or not dealing with – the situation. While they're "gravely concerned" and are "actively investigating" things on their own, they continue to wait to see how the three countries involved handle the situation on their ends before taking action themselves. That topic led one channel's political panel to a discussion on the UN's Security Council and a debate over the U.S. position on the International Criminal Court – a position, ironically, that President Taylor had been set on trying to change, if not reverse altogether.

On one station, Renee found someone talking about how the whole affair may have contributed to the untimely death of Secretary of State Ethan Kanin – yet another event that's taken place in the wake of her shooting that she'd been unaware of.

And somewhere in the midst of channel flipping, she'd caught a glimpse of Mitchell Hayworth, Taylor's successor, blatantly distancing himself from the whole situation. From what she recalls of him during Juma's siege on the White House eighteen months ago, she hadn't been impressed with the man.

The clip of him she's seen tonight hasn't changed her opinion.

She shifts a little on the mattress, her gaze drifting aimlessly in the darkness.

There has been no mention of Jack on what news segments she's seen, which surprises her. Nor was there mention of the fact that Taylor sanctioned a hit on a U.S. citizen; a citizen who had not only saved the former-First Gentleman's life but the president herself; a citizen who, over the years, has saved countless lives and God, nearly died himself while stopping the prion virus from being unleashed on innocent Americans all those months ago; a citizen who has not only been exiled from the country he's fought so hard for but has also been forced to abandon the family he's only recently regained.

That's the fleeting nature of gratitude for you, she thinks angrily.

Renee knows it might be viewed as irrational, emotional or self-serving but of all the things President Taylor's accused of doing, it's that offense – sanctioning Jack's death – she'd most like to see the woman punished for.

Not for the first time since learning what's happened to him, she feels the anger and sadness and guilt weighing on her. Not for the first time since learning what's happened to him, she tries to swallow the emotions down.

I'm so sorry, Jack, she tells him silently, You didn't deserve any of this. You deserve… Her thoughts briefly flitter back to those first moments with him in the CTU conference room. How relaxed he looked then. You deserve to be with your family. You deserve peace.

Instead – and in spite of her self-imposed directive to stay away so whatever peace he'd achieved in the wake of his stem cell transplant could remain undisturbed – Jack has gotten anything but peace.

She shifts her shoulders and tries to adjust her hips again in an effort to get comfortable. Then she tugs at the oxygen tubing beneath her chin, tempted for a moment, to remove it completely so at least the itching in her nose will stop. But she leaves it in place. The last time she gave in to the impulse, she'd had the oxygen off for less than a minute before one of the alarms behind her began to blare and the nurse came in to reprimand her. She neither wants nor needs a repeat of that right now.

So instead she starts to fidget with the oxygen tubing draped across her abdomen with one hand while her other hand squeezes the button for the pain meds again. Too soon. Again.

"Need anything?" Cole's voice breaks the silence.

"No," she says quietly, adding as an afterthought, "Thanks."

In all honesty, however, the list of things she needs seems ever growing.

At the top of that list of things is Jack. Here. Now.

Barring that, she'd take the ability to escape this place. Or a simple turning back of the clock. The chance to somehow make it all right again, to undo the damage that's been done since she answered that damned call from CTU. In fact, she'd even turn the clock back beyond that, if she could just manage it.

She'd also settle for a nice little visit with President Taylor.

Renee frowns as her thoughts linger on the president again.

Before their brief encounter a week ago, the last time she'd seen or spoken to the woman was the day she was released from DOJ custody.

It was also the day she found out Jack hadn't succumbed to the prion variant.

The Attorney General's office had taken their time trying to figure out what to do with her and she'd spent almost a full week in custody before they made their decision. In that time, she sat through interview after interview after interview and had been required to undergo both a complete medical examination and a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation.

Part of her knew the DOJ had their hands full dealing with the aftermath of everything that had happened; that they were busy with the likes of Tanner and Wilson, Sean Hillinger, Tony Almeida and, she'd overheard, Olivia Taylor. They were but a few among many, many others who had, in some way or another, participated in the events of the day. After all, the list Jack managed to cut out of Dubaku was not exactly short.

But part of her also decided that they were merely letting her stew in what she'd done. Which might have worked had she been capable of stewing about that or much of anything else in her time there. The cold numbness that began nearly a week before had established a firm grip on her by that point.

She'd done everything she could to stop Wilson and his fellow conspirators. She'd given the Bureau the information she'd obtained. The rest was up to them.

She was done.

On more than one level.

When she'd been brought to a small conference room on the evening of what wound up being her final day in detention, she expected it would be yet another interview about Tanner or Wilson. Or perhaps Tony Almeida again.

She hadn't anticipated walking in to find President Taylor standing there. Waiting for her. Alone.

The president started by sitting across from her at the conference table but soon rose to her feet again and began pacing as she launched into a harsh lecture. All Renee could do was sit there and endure the scathing dressing down.

That sharp reprimand was one of a very few things that penetrated the detachment blanketing her in those early days. For the last eighteen months, she's wished it hadn't.

As she considers it now, she understands that perhaps that's why what the president said to her a week ago had the effect it had. But she also wonders if she'd known how things were going to turn out – that the president was going to participate in a Russian cover-up and sanction Jack's death – if either interaction would've carried the same weight.

Throughout most of the meeting, Renee followed the woman's shifting reflection in the glossy surface of the conference table, responding with an occasional "yes, Ma'am" or "no, Madam President."

But there came a point when the president had finally stopped pacing and fallen silent. She stood there gripping the thickly padded back of a chair, anger and disappointment evidently spent, and she studied Renee with weary blue eyes that seemed to have aged years in the days since Renee had last seen her. Renee had gotten the sense that the president was waiting for her to respond with more than a simple yes or no or for her to apologize or otherwise explain herself and her actions.

Instead, Renee had looked up at the woman standing across from her and asked the only question whose answer seemed even vaguely important at the time.

"Will I be allowed to go to their funerals?"

Taylor had seemed thrown by the abrupt off-topic question. "Whose funerals, Agent Walker?"

"Agent Moss' and… Jack Bauer's."

She can't recall now, just how she found out, but she'd known Larry's funeral was slated for the next day. There had been some sort of delay in scheduling it because of his ex-wife's desire to make it an elaborate, public affair – something Renee knew Larry would've hated. His ex-wife would've known it too, so she supposed that said a lot right there.

Jack's service on the other hand… she had no idea. She had known how unlikely it was that he would've still been lingering on at that point. A day. Maybe two. That was all he had left. His funeral should have been coming up, as well.

For her part, President Taylor had pulled her brows together and, for the first time since Renee walked into the room, the woman's voice and expression softened with a mix of sadness and surprise.

"No one's told you…"

Though both Jack and Larry had been on her mind much of her time in detention, it was the first time since she watched the paramedics wheel him away that she'd actually even mentioned the name Jack Bauer out loud.

She hadn't wanted to know how bad it was for him in the end. She hadn't wanted to know if it was a final seizure that took him; or if the spasms wound up snapping his spine in two; or if the disease eventually targeted his heart and lungs or any number of other horrible ways it could've taken him.

She didn't need those mental images haunting her the way Larry's bloody and lifeless face had already begun to do, following her into what sleep she managed to get.

She just wanted to spend a few moments at their graves. To say one final farewell to a man who had not only been her boss and mentor but also her best friend; a man she considered to be her family; a man who had helped her in ways and on levels he'd never really known. And to say good-bye to a man she'd known only a day yet felt an attachment to that she couldn't define; a man who'd made an impression on her psyche that she didn't understand except to know that it was indelible and that somewhere beneath the numbness, she already missed him – more than should've been possible.

"Told me what?"

"Agent Walker… Jack Bauer's not dead."

With that, Taylor told her of Kim Bauer's decision to proceed with the stem cell transplant after Jack was no longer able to stop her. Though he was still in a coma and though the course of treatment would be long and complicated and his recovery, full or otherwise, was far from certain, the president had been informed that, one week into it, Jack was at least holding his own.

If she could have at that point, Renee probably would've cried with relief or laughed at the irony of that situation. After all, Jack was still alive – but only because the daughter he'd so adamantly insisted not be involved had proven to be just as stubborn as he was. As it was, the news merely brought forth a sigh of gratitude. Beyond that initial sentiment, learning that Jack had survived to that point barely managed to stir any semblance of significant emotion in her. At the time, anyway.

In fact, not counting the brief waves of grief and anger she felt every time she woke up from a dream in which Larry and Jack found their way into, the president's reprimand and her revelation about Jack had generated the only real emotion she can recall feeling in the immediate aftermath of that day.

So when Taylor finally pushed a manila envelope across the table and began explaining the documents inside, Renee merely stared at it. Without a single spark of curiosity.

As it turned out, for all her lecturing and overt displeasure, the president had apparently gone to bat for her. A token of her personal gratitude for helping save her husband's life. A token of the country's gratitude for all the good work she'd done up to and including that day.

All she had to do, the president explained, was sign the documents and it would be over.

No charges would be brought against her. Her file would state that she had resigned and would otherwise remain sealed. The details of what she had done to Tanner and Wilson would not be released by the Bureau. There would be no further detention, no federal prison time, only a period of probation – the length and terms of which would be determined by the Attorney General.

In return, she was expected to be available to provide testimony and assistance in any legal proceedings undertaken against the other various defendants – most notably, Tony Almeida – should it be required.

She would also have to participate in the mandatory grief counseling offered by the FBI for a period of time to be determined by the Bureau's appointed psychiatrist. And she'd have to adhere to any recommendations for further counseling should it be deemed necessary.

All she had to do was sign her name.

And she had.

With effortless scribbles of black ink on three separate documents, she surrendered not only her career but the life she had worked so hard for so long to build for herself.

And she'd done it without a fight.

Without so much as a flicker of a need to fight.

She hadn't tried to fight the potential charges. Hadn't tried to fight for her job. Hadn't tried to fight for her self or her reputation.

That understanding has been eating away at her ever since.

She shifts again in the bed, increasingly uncomfortable on the mattress, in her hospital gown, in her own skin. She tries closing her eyes but she already knows she won't be sleeping anytime soon.

She recognizes this path she's on. She's been here too many times not to know it.

She's thinking too much. Again. She's spending too much time inside her own head – a pattern she seems to have unintentionally fallen into at some point during the past eighteen months. Once her brain starts on this path, it seems to dig in and, as the scars on her wrist now attest, it's a habit that doesn't necessarily always end well for her.

Tonight is apparently going to be no different because regardless of what she wants, her mind keeps going, rehashing things she's rehashed countless times over the last year and a half. And it isn't long before her thoughts return to Larry.

Though she'd asked President Taylor about his funeral, and though she was released from custody the night before it took place, she hadn't attended.

She'd planned to go. She'd showered and dressed, done her hair and her makeup – all, on autopilot. It wasn't until she climbed into her SUV, her fingers about to turn the key in the ignition that she froze.

She could – and has tried to – chalk it up to grief or panic or embarrassment. After all, Larry was dead. If seeing his blood-covered body on that gurney wasn't enough to drive that reality home, attending his funeral certainly would.

And she knew so many of those who would be in attendance. Friends and colleagues would be there to support one another in their collective grief. She'd practically felt the weight of their stares even as she sat behind the wheel of her car. Could almost hear the whispers that would be rippling through the crowd as they spotted her. A week prior, she'd have stood there anyway, self-assured and flipping a mental finger to anyone and everyone who dared look at her sideways.

But that was Before.

So instead of turning the key in the ignition, she'd dropped her head to rest against the steering wheel and closed her eyes.

The next thing she knew, she was waking up curled up on the floor next to her toilet with a raging headache, a stomach and throat that felt like they were sitting in a vat of churning acid and a nearly-empty bottle of liquor on the floor next to her.

Looking back, as she's done too many times, she knows now that it hadn't been sadness or grief that stopped her from turning the key and backing out of her garage. Nor was it panic, fear or embarrassment.

It was the lack of what should've been there to drive her past it all. It was the lack of Fight.

She hadn't made it to Larry's funeral – hadn't even managed to really cry for him until weeks later – but she managed to drink herself into unconsciousness.

It was just one more failure paving the road she's been on ever since the day she lost everything that seemed to matter.

I owed you so much more than that, she admits to Larry. "So much more."

"What?"

Renee opens her eyes. For a few minutes there, she'd forgotten she had a babysitter.

"Nothing," she mutters, wiping at the few tears that have managed to escape her control.

She pushes a button to adjust the head of the bed, lowering it. Instantly, she feels the muscles in her torso pull and she stops the movement. Even that little bit of movement hurts too much.

Unfortunately, the pain isn't enough to interrupt her brain and its deliberations and it continues down its path…

She hadn't made it to Larry's funeral, but twice she had managed to try to see Jack – which might've be felt like a slight to Larry if she hadn't failed at it like everything else at that point.

The first attempt had been a week or so after Larry's service.

The numbness cloaking her in the wake of the Wilson interrogation had just started to lift and the emotional storm it had been sheltering her from was beginning to set in. It was a storm that, as the weeks passed, would leave her increasingly submerged in something she couldn't recognize much less control. But in the beginning, it was just a trickle of what was to come and for whatever reason, she'd gotten it into her head that seeing Jack alive might help ease whatever it was that was building in her.

It had taken hours to talk herself into making the trip to the hospital and she'd still changed her mind more times than she could count before she actually stepped out of the elevator and onto his floor. The moment she came around the corner and saw Kim and Chloe and two men she could only guess were their husbands huddled with a team of doctors outside Jack's room, however, she'd turned on her heel and disappeared around the corner again.

She'd wanted to see – had prepared herself to see – Jack and only Jack. So in the end, she'd left without being seen. Apparently, the courage had left, too, because she hadn't gone back.

Not until weeks and weeks later, in the wake of her own hospital stay.

She can't remember exactly what sparked that second visit.

For a long time now, she's thought it might've been his initial calls and messages that spurred her to make the effort. Or that it was insomnia induced. Or that it was the whisper of understanding that she'd been so self-absorbed, so ridiculously self-involved with her own predicament, that she hadn't even considered that maybe Jack needed a friend during his recovery. That maybe she could help him and in doing so she might somehow help herself.

She's also considered that perhaps it was sparked by some unconscious or forgotten need to connect with someone. Someone who might have possibly gotten why she did what she did that day. Someone who might have an inkling of what she was feeling.

Now she realizes it was simply Jack himself. The need to connect with him. See him. Talk to him. To find out if his reassuring presence might help calm the storm that had finally overtaken her, leaving her battered and scarred. To confirm what her response to hearing his voice on her voicemail had already tried to tell her: that the flutterings of whatever bond she'd felt with him that first day had managed to survive her self-destructive path.

In any case, she had tried.

It was the middle of the night but she still half-expected and half-worried that Kim might be there with him. She wasn't. Jack was alone and asleep when she'd donned the thin isolation gown and the gloves and mask that the sign on the door declared were necessary attire to enter the room.

She hadn't stayed long – couldn't have been more than a few minutes, really – because seeing him in person had forced her to face things she couldn't have known by listening to those first couple of voicemails.

He looked so different, so unlike the man she remembered. He was too thin and pale and vulnerable just resting there, attached to too many tubes and wires and machines. His eyes were closed but there was no peace in his expression. His skin was waxy and dull. And his breathing… there had been something about his breathing that wasn't right.

Seeing him like that just cemented in her head what she'd known deep down even before she made the trip to his hospital room. She couldn't help him. Not when she couldn't even help herself.

And Jack Bauer, for all his resourcefulness and instincts, for all his expert knowledge and skills and advice, was not going to be helping her, either. Jack Bauer had enough to deal with on his own.

He didn't need her drama complicating his life. He didn't need her dumping her issues on him. And they were her issues. She knew that. Her life was a mess of her own making. One that she'd have to find a way to clean up and fix on her own.

Or not.

So she'd sat there next to his hospital bed, watching him sleep, afraid touching him might hurt him. Or wake him. And if she woke him, she wasn't sure any longer that she wouldn't be able to stop herself from breaking down in front of him, which was clearly the last thing he needed.

Yet in spite of what her head told her, she wanted to touch him. To wake him. To talk to him. At some point, while trying to resist the need to reach out and take hold of his hand, she'd begun nervously running a finger along her wrist where the skin was still so sensitive and tender. It wasn't long before her nails were digging into the newly forming scars and she was feeling the pain again.

And that was enough to bring reality home again.

She'd said a few silent words to him. She'd told him how relieved she was that he was alive and that she was grateful he had a daughter who loved him enough to go against him. She'd urged him to fight and make it through the battle he was still so clearly engaged in. She'd wished him a long and happy life.

Then she had apologized.

For getting him involved in something that had nearly killed him – or for that matter could still kill him.

For not being capable of being the friend he may have needed. The friend she should've been. Would've liked to have been.

For not being as strong as she once thought she was. As strong as she should've been. Wanted to be.

She'd done it all without saying a word out loud and then she'd left as silently and unnoticed as she had arrived.

She hadn't tried to see him again.

She knows now, that had been yet another in a long line of mistakes.

She should have gone back to see him after he started sounding stronger in his messages. Or after he was out of the hospital. Or after he moved to New York.

Yet even on the rare occasions she let herself consider taking those steps, she knew she had nothing to offer him but stress and drama and complications.

Only now, after having him back in her life even for those few hours, does she understand that maybe, in the end, that wouldn't have mattered. Not to Jack.

Maybe, given time, it wouldn't have even mattered to herself.

I should have gone back, she admits to herself with a painful sigh. The breath meets resistance in her chest and once again, she finds herself coughing.

"Sure you don't need anything?" she hears Cole ask once the coughing passes and she is settling back in bed. "I could get the nurse…"

"I'm fine, Cole," she mumbles, trying to keep the annoyance from her tone.

But now she feels the tears rising again.

God, I need to get out of here.

Her hand finally releases the oxygen tubing she's been twisting and bending, only to move on to the sheet, alternately coiling it around her fingers and scrunching it in her palm.

She's not fine.

She needs to get air.

She needs to go for a run.

Or at least a walk.

And yet she can't even stand on her own.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, she pushes the button for the narcotic and is rewarded with a beep that tells her the machine is delivering a dose.

Supposedly.

I need to get out of here, she repeats silently, looking out the window at what lights she can see in the building across the street, I need to get out there…

But she's here.

Trapped.

And because she's trapped, because her mind won't shut up and let her sleep, the hours pass painfully slowly, interrupted only by the nurse's frequent visits or her irritating cough.

She pushes the button for the pain medication and closes her eyes. Or keeps them open to stare at the ceiling. Or the curtain. Or the dark, glassy screen of the TV.

When the tears come, they flow silently.

And her hands busy themselves by rubbing at the muscle occasional spasming in her thigh. Or fiddling with the oxygen tubing. Or tracing the edge of the nurse call button or the cup on the bedside table.

All while she lays there.

And she thinks.