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BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD, 1/2

posted in 24_fanfic

Title: Brighter Days Ahead, Chapter 1
Characters: Jack/Sergei (OC)
Summary: Post Day 6. Jack hangs out in Croatia
Disclaimer: 24 is the Property of the Fox Production Company.
A/N: This fic was inspired by, of all things, Michael Palin’s New Europe. Also inspired by an interview with Kiefer where he mentioned that his own character book (fanfic?) had Jack hanging out in Eastern Europe with his old Special Forces buddies Post Day 6. Thanks to my beta, cybertoothtiger

SPLIT, CROATIA

The warm Adriatic Sea was the same color as his eyes.

Jack had been forced to adapt his once-powerful front crawl to accommodate the now limited range of motion in his shoulders. Even so, his afternoon swim, when the sun was high, was the favorite part of his day. Pushing through water caressed and strengthened his lean, muscular limbs. This experience was far more pleasant than a five am plunge from a helicopter into the freezing Pacific.

He had already attracted an audience. As Jack emerged onto the beach the dark-haired woman was already there, strategically parking herself next to where Jack had placed his sandals and towel. Today she wore a particularly fetching red bikini.

Jack quickly slid his sensitive feet into his sandals as the sand was hot against the criss-crossed grooves on his soles. He toweled off his face and hair, conscious of the large brown eyes that were upon him. He dipped his head and smiled shyly.

“Hey,” he acknowledged softly.

“Good afternoon to you,” She replied in an accented English, “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to take off that shirt.”

“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind,” Jack mumbled as he walked off.

The woman had a point. Jack’s white t-shirt was already drying, shrinking and molding itself to his torso. Salt was literally being poured into his wounds. Like most forms of therapy, it was painful.

As he walked through the pretty streets of Split he remembered what Dr. Shreber had said in his final session before he left the United States:

“If you do nothing else, cover the basics: Rest. Eat good food. Exercise. Your body is yours now. Take care it.”

That has proven to be remarkably practical advice. For a shrink.

When he reached Sergei’s place he took a few minutes to shower, and changed into a pair of khakis and a long-sleeved white shirt. The smells of the restaurant coaxed him downstairs.

Sergei was sitting at the best table in the house, near the window, enjoying his customary shot of Raki. It was a very strong, distilled liquor that was popular throughout Eastern Europe. Sergei raised his glass in acknowledgement of Jack’s presence. Jack grabbed a room-temperature bottle of seltzer and joined his friend.

In the years since their days in the Special Forces, Jack and Sergei had changed considerably and in opposite directions: Jack had become lean, Sergei had grown rather chubby. Jack was beautiful, Sergei was homely. Jack was withdrawn, Sergei was gregarious. Jack performed super-human feats that saved the world, Sergei preoccupied himself with keeping his little restaurant in business.

Sergei push a plate of lamb chops and grilled peppers towards Jack. This was quickly followed by a basket of bread and a bottle of green olive oil.

“Eat,” Sergei ordered.

Jack did as instructed. It was easy, as Sergei was an excellent cook.

Jack had always had a rather utilitarian view of food: it was mere fuel, to be gobbled quickly whenever a moment presented itself. He filled his stomach the way he filled his car, often waiting until there was too little gas in the tank. Eating for pleasure was almost a foreign concept, something indulged in only when in the company of a woman.

That was now starting to change. The food in Sergei’s restaurant was fresh and local, prepared simply and expertly. Dr. Schreber would have approved.

“Jack. You are so glum.” Sergei said after a minute or two of Jack’s silent eating. Jack was not good at small talk, but Sergei persisted.

“I was just thinking.”

“You do too much of that.”

“I remember what this place was like the last time I was here. When we went on that mission. A lot of people died. I didn’t think this place could ever recover.”

“Yes, the war. Those where terrible times. Much death. Much suffering. Brother against brother. Now, things are better,” Sergei gestured to the room and the well-maintained street outside, filled with its little shops and eateries. People were going about their business, enjoying the simple pleasures that came with peace and some degree of prosperity. Just being able sit to outside and enjoy an espresso or a shot or three of Raki. That freedom was something that must never be taken for granted.

“But don’t you ever think about the past? The price that was paid for the way things are now?” Jack asked.

“The price was high, yes. But what are you going to do? Keep hating? Keep being angry? Or move on?” Sergei shrugged dramatically.

“So why did you decide to open a restaurant? I didn’t even know you could cook.”

“I like to make people happy. If I make people happy, life is easy.”

“That’s a good theory.”

“You should try it. You can make me happy now: there are dishes for you in the kitchen.”

“I’m on it,” Jack pushed away the half-empty plate and stood up.

“First, finish your lunch! Always in such a hurry.” Sergei shook his head ruefully and poured himself another shot.

Jack was already gone.

As promised, the industrial-sized sink was filled with pots and pans. Jack put on an apron and his rubber gloves. He turned on the tap, squirted soap into the sink and got to work.

When Jack had appeared at Sergei’s residence a few weeks earlier, he had insisted that he didn’t want to free load, that he wanted to earn his keep. It had been a noble sentiment, but the mandate had proven difficult to fulfill. When Jack had been living under the name of Frank Flynn he had worked as a short-order cook in a number of diners. Sergei had wrinkled his nose and said that did not qualify him to cook in any respectable European restaurant. Jack also couldn’t be trusted to do the daily reconnaissance to the farmer’s market, sourcing ingredients for the day’s menu. Jack had then proven to be a remarkably untalented waiter, and his grasp of the local language left much to be desired.

So Jack Bauer, once America’s premier counter-terrorist agent, was now washing dishes and busing tables in a small Croatian restaurant.

It was an improvement.

TO BE CONTINUED…