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DAMAGED GOODS

posted in 24_fanfic

Title: Damaged Goods
Author: marinw
Rating: PG
Characters: Africa!Jack, Dr. Nicole Duncan
Summary: Spoilers for Day 7 Prequel. Jack reunites with an old friend.
Disclaimer: 24 is the property of the Fox Production Company. Etc.
A/N: This fic was inspired by nto24’s own Africa!Jack. I would never dare compete with nto’s Carl Benton, so here I’m keeping him in the background. Thanks to my beta sardonicynic


He wasn’t the only one with scars.

It was perverse, but Jack couldn’t help but compare himself to the villagers and his fellow aid workers. Compared to some of them he was remarkably intact; his face had been left almost unmolested, he had both eyes, all his limbs, and all of his fingers and toes.

If he felt self-conscious, it was because he was the only blond, blue-eyed Caucasian man for kilometers.

Today he even took off his shirt as he worked on the foundation of what would be the new schoolhouse. If the crew stayed on schedule, in a couple of months the new building would be filled with children, each one equipped with a hand-cranked $100 laptop.

As he worked Jack could feel the eyes of some of the female aid workers upon him. They weren’t staring out of horror or pity. They were looking at him in the way women used to look at him.

Jack knew what he looked like: He hadn’t cut his hair for a while and the sun had bleached it to a lighter shade of blond. He had a healthy tan. He had adjusted to his new body. He was lean but strong, with well-developed arms, shoulders and pectorals, a flat stomach, narrow hips and slender legs.

Someone was looking at him now. Someone familiar.

“Hey, Jack.”

Jack laid down his trowel and stood up. He retrieved his t-shirt and pulled it on. “Nicole. I heard you were coming. What are you doing here?”

“I was finishing up a stint with Doctors Without Borders. Then I heard about this operation.”

“We do need a doctor. It’s good that you came.”

“What about you, Jack? What are you doing in the middle of Sangala?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I’ll bet.”

“Why don’t you drop by my room after dinner? We can have a drink and catch up.”

“I’d like that.”

••••

Jack’s small room had everything he needed and nothing he didn’t. A cot with a sleeping bag and a pillow. A chest of drawers held his few belongings. A small refrigerator. A couple of chairs and a desk. On top of the desk was a rather out-of-date laptop. Jack didn’t use it very much: getting the solar-powered Wi-Fi router up and running wasn’t high on Carl Benton’s list of priorities.

Jack originally had ambitions to write. He wasn’t getting very far. What was he supposed to write about? Every evening after dinner he opened a blank Word documents and spent a half-hour staring down a blank screen. He wanted to torture the old MacBook into giving up the location of his muse. He knew it didn’t work that way.

He turned to see Nicole standing in the doorway. Jack quickly closed the laptop, somehow embarrassed by his lack of productivity.

“Hey, come in. Please. Would you like a beer?”

“No thank you. But you go ahead.”

Jack opened the refrigerator. “How about a Coke?”

“If you have one.”

Jack handed Nicole a bottle of the iconic beverage. He retrieved a beer for himself and gestured to the unfilled chair.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” Nicole announced suddenly.

Where did that come from?

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I haven’t been here for more than a few hours, but I already get the sense that there’s no point in trying to keep secrets.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that.” Jack used the hem of his shirt to remove the cap from the bottle. “One is my limit. I couldn’t get drunk if I wanted to.”

“Silobeam pentathol is nasty shit. If an inability to metabolism large amounts of alcohol is your worst problem, consider yourself lucky.”

“Who told you about that?”

“Nobody. It wasn’t hard to figure out. Silobeam is a popular interrogation drug in China. How’s the memory loss?

Nicole had always been a brilliant diagnostician. Jack ignored the question.

“So you know about China?”

China. The tiny cell and the huge nation followed him everywhere.

“Like I said, It’s hard to keep a secret. Jack, I’m so sorry. It must have been hell.”

“It was.”

“Would you like to talk about it? I’m not a psychiatrist, but I am a good listener.”

“I know you are, Nicole. I appreciate the offer. I might take you up on it. Right now I want to know about you. The last I heard you were still at the CDC.”

“You have been out of the loop, haven’t you? I resigned over four years ago.”

“It was the Cordilla virus, wasn’t it? And the Chandler Plaza.”

“I thought I could deal with it. But I kept thinking of all people at that hotel. The way they died. I kept seeing them. I couldn’t stay detached.”

“So you started drinking.” Jack managed to keep that statement free of judgment.

“That’s right. I took a leave of absence. I kept extending it. I tried to go back to work. I just couldn’t. They gave me administrative work but even that was too much. When they offered me a severance package, I took it.”

“I understand.”

“I needed to do something different. I worked at a free clinic in East LA for a while. I liked the work. I decided to take it a step further, so I joined Doctors Without Borders. Instead of man-made viruses I now work with AIDS babies. Botched female circumcisions. Landmine victims.”

“Is that an improvement?”

“I’m not drinking. I was about to go back to the States. Then I met Benton. He told me about this project, about how he needed someone to set up a clinic. He can be very persuasive.”

“Yes, he can be.”

“Now it’s your turn, Jack. What are you doing here? Construction work isn’t the best use of your skills.”

“There’s more to my job than that. This country has a lot of conflict. Someone has to keep these people safe.”

“You still haven’t answered my question.”

“After I got back from China nothing made any sense. Staying in America didn’t feel right. I couldn’t readjust.”

“So you started to withdraw again.”

“I’m trying not to do that this time. That’s why I came here. I’m not the only one with problems. I know that now.”

“Not everything is about us. It’s surprising how helpful that is.”

“Yeah.”

“This afternoon when you were working on the school, I almost didn’t recognize you. You look so different - In a good way. You look…younger. This environment must agree with you.”

“Nicole, I going to be honest with you. This isn’t the easiest place to live.”

“I’m not looking for easy.”

“Good.”

“Thanks for the drink. I should turn in. I’m exhausted, and tomorrow I have to start work on the clinic.”

“Let me know if you need any help with that. Medical supplies can be hard to find around here, but I’ve made some connections.”

“I will. And Jack? If you need to talk…”

“Thanks.”

“Good night.”

“I’ll see you soon.”

Nicole squeezed his hand and left.

Jack didn’t want her here. He didn’t want anyone from his past here. Nicole would start comparing who he was now to who he was then. She would analyze the ways he was the same and the ways he was different. Jack didn’t want that kind of scrutiny.

But Benton’s project was more important than what Jack wanted.

After Nicole left, Jack corked the half-empty bottle of beer and returned it to the fridge. He opened the laptop and waited for the words to come.

END

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