They watch from the conference room as Jack makes a phone call. They all know who it's to.
"Christ," says Mason, "we just got him in here. Almeida, you go after him."
He says it with a bit of attitude on the word you that makes Tony's stomach sour, but he leaves the room like it doesn't bother him, speeding up a little so he can grab Jack before he gets too far.
At present, Jack is hanging up the phone. Tony finally gets a good look at him. With the scrubby beard and the flannel shirt, he looks like a disenfranchised lobsterman. His eyes are dark with grief.
"Jack, wait up."
He catches up to him at the door and grabs his shoulders, spinning him around. Not roughly, just so he can make sure Jack listens to what he has to say.
"I don't have time for this -"
"Jack, we need you -"
"I don't -"
"We need Wald, okay? You were the only one who had a background match with him. He's our only lead. We need you."
Jack is shaking his head before Tony's sentence is over. "I can't -"
"If you want to protect Kim -"
That pushes Jack over the edge. "No," he growls. "I can't trust you. I trusted CTU to protect Teri and I lost her." His finger jabs Tony in the chest. Tony is still holding onto his shoulders, desperately, but it feels like he's holding onto air.
"I know, Jack. I was there."
Jack's expression is unfathomable. "I can't lose my daughter," he says weakly.
Without even thinking, Tony pulls him into a hug. A tight one.
He expects Jack to pull away, but instead he just sags in his arms, like all the fight has gone out of him.
"I know," Tony repeats.
People are looking, he can tell. They all know, of course. It had come out in the debriefing after Teri's death. Chapelle hadn't much cared about losing Jack as an agent, but having a civilian shot to death on the premises was bad, very bad, and they'd done all they could to prove it wasn't their fault.
Ergo, Division was very curious about Jack and Nina's relationship, and Tony was very tired, so he came out with it immediately. "It wasn't Nina that Jack was... involved with. It was me. Nina covered for us, pretended it was her."
George Mason had loved that. "Tony! I hadn't pegged either of you for -"
"We're not, okay? It was a fluke. He was lonely. He couldn't relate to anybody else. It was... strange."
The agent debriefing him had no time for Mason and his need to provoke people on the topic of Jack. He jumped back in with short, direct questions.
"Were you emotionally intimate?"
What can you possibly say to that? "Not really."
"Were you physically intimate?"
Tony's voice catches in his throat. He manages to say yes, and he feels Mason's eyes on him. He stares intently at the other agent.
"Then he went back to Teri, and you began a relationship with Nina."
"You didn't suspect her affiliation?"
No, he hadn't. He lay awake for weeks - months - afterward, replaying their entire relationship in his head, that entire day, but the fact had been: she was very good at what she did.
In a way he was flagellating himself. He wanted them to know about his involvement with Jack. He wanted them to wonder about it, about him, to have to reevaluate everything they'd ever thought about him.
And Jack had dropped off the face of the planet, so it wasn't hurting him, was it? No, that had been Tony's private ordeal.
Now they were clinging to each other in the lobby at CTU, and he had to force this poor broken guy back into the game that had taken almost everything from him.
"Let's get out of here," Tony murmurs. "Get some fresh air."
"Okay," Jack says, stiffening and pulling away.
He places his hand against Jack's lower back and steers him outside, into the parking lot.
"We can sit in my car," he says. It comes out far more softly than he means it to.
"Okay," Jack says again. He sounds so tired.
They stagger out together into the sunlight like they're leaving a war zone.
Tony opens the door of his SUV, and they slide into the backseat. Jack leans forward, hands on his thighs. His breaths are choppy.
Tony runs his hands through his dark hair.
"I don't know how to convince you," he says. "I wouldn't want to do this if I were you. But we need you."
He didn't realize how much he missed Jack until now. He even missed all of their silly disagreements and tiffs over technique and authority. Because no one was like him. No one else was so virtuous that it was to a fault.
There were others, yeah. Mason was by nature a bit of an asshole, but he fell on the side of justice every time he could. The new protocol manager, Michelle, seemed incorruptible, and as steady as one could be in a job like this.
But Jack was so much more than incorruptible. He was the last line of defense, personified. And Nina's betrayal had shaken CTU to its core.
On that day Jack lost Teri. CTU lost Jack. And Tony lost his naivete.
He notices Jack looking out the window, past his face. He looks too.
There's a mother and her young son walking down the sidewalk, holding hands. He has a huge smile on his face. He tugs her hand and says something to her. She laughs and shakes her head.
Tony makes eye contact. Now or never.
"I'll do it," he says. His voice is like rocks on gravel.
Relief floods Tony. "Okay, thank -"
"I want Knoll or Grothy to pick up Kim and take her a safe distance outside the city."
"- you... Yeah, of course. Right away."
There's a pause.
"Jack, you look like shit," Tony says, letting out the breath he'd been holding as a hiccupy laugh.
Jack nods. "I know." He clears his throat. "Tony, I think you're the only one I can trust here."
He doesn't know quite what to say to that. "Well..."
"No, it's the truth. And not just because... you know."
Tony's been wondering when Jack might make reference to that. He was starting to think he'd hallucinated the whole thing.
"I know." He's suddenly brave. "That really was just fucking, wasn't it?"
Jack's head tips in what might be a nod.
"It's funny, but... I think after the um, the primary, I liked you better than I ever liked you... before."
"It's called respect, Tony."
"Right... I did respect you before, though."
"Really?" Jack sounds almost amused, although with the blunted affect it's hard to tell. "You sure as hell didn't respect some of my decisions."
He can't argue with that. He figures it would be the height of irony to try.
So he leans forward, closing the few inches between them, and kisses Jack, regretting it almost before it happens. But Jack responds, leaning into him. Jack's teeth hit his lip and he tastes iron. He's getting beard burn.
Something about it is so chaste despite the location and the circumstances. Like they've been newly introduced to each other. Jack is reaching out for him, pulling him closer, his fingers slipping between one of the gaps in his dress shirt and lightly grazing his chest.
That wakes him up, for some reason, and he remembers Teri, and then the bomb. He jerks away.
"I'm sorry." It comes out so softly. Damnit, he keeps doing that. "I'm sorry," he says more forcefully.
"It's all right." It's the first time he's sounded emotional. "You're lonely. I'm lonely."
"I'm..." Tony searches for the right word. "Isolated. Here. Jack, they all know."
Jack leans back. "Yeah."
"And no one... I mean, that whole day it was me and Nina. I couldn't trust anyone. And then Mason told me - and I came out to the garage and you were about to shoot her in the head." His voice catches.
Jack seems at a loss, and then he leans forward and grabs Tony by the shoulders, mirroring their stand-off in the lobby.
"None of what happened that day was your fault."
"If I had known - she kept disappearing - I thought she was talking to you -"
"No, Almeida. No. The keycard led me straight to her computer. Did you know that?"
He nods yes. This had all come out in the debriefing.
"She is an excellent liar. I blame myself enough, I don't need anyone else doing the same."
"I missed you, Jack," he says.
"Of course you did. I bet you've built me up in your head while I've been inactive. The only one who could understand what you're going through."
Tony snorted. "I'm not an idiot."
"No, just human. I've already done a lap around this track, after Nightfall. I know how it is."
"Hey, you aren't here with - oh, Christ, right."
"Mason. He already gives me a ration of shit about you, what's he going to think about me taking twenty minutes to bring you back? We need to get you briefed right away." He leans over Jack and opens the door. "Go right to the conference room, Michelle will take care of you. I'll go get an agent out to find Kim."
They slide out and begin their way back. Tony checks his watch.
"This is going to be a long day," he mutters.
Jack claps him on the back. "Aren't they all."