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THE ROAD AHEAD

posted in 24_fanfic

Title: The Road Ahead
Author: marinw
Rating: PG
Characters: Jack/Taylor/Andre/Jamal(OC’s)
Summary: Post Day 7. Jack realizes how far he has to go.
Disclaimer: 24 is the property of the Fox Production Company.
A/N: Written for an armbell prompt. Thanks to my beta cybertoothtiger. Thanks as well to wordthatfail for the musical inspiration.

“Five more minutes.”

Jack restrained himself from cursing.

He would have preferred a swim. Jack was almost one week out of the hospital. So far, the heated pool was one of his favorite things about Camp David. By comparison, a stationary bicycle was singularly uninspiring.

“We need you need to build up your legs.” Andre nodded towards the wheelchair parked in a corner of the gym. “If you want to stop using that then get going.”

Weren’t physical therapists supposed to be good with people? Andre alternated between perky cheerleader and Hollywood drill sergeant – he even wore camouflage cargo pants. Both personas were equally grating. Andre had probably based his approach on a tragic misreading of Jack’s psych profile.

“Fine.” Jack relented.

“I’ve increased the tension. You can handle it. Here, I’ll turn on the TV to make the time go faster.”

“Can I have the news?”

Andre shrugged and turned on GNN. He set the timer and went off to play with his iPhone.

“Chop chop, Bauer. We don’t have all day,” Andre said between texts.

Actually, they did have all day. Screw you, Jack thought.

Jack leaned on the handlebars and started peddling. Dammit. The increased tension was making things difficult. Not that Jack was about to admit it.

On the large plasma screen, President Taylor was mid-speech. Today she was speaking about the aftermath of the Sangala invasion and other matters of foreign policy.

The president was a fine speaker. Taylor was the first Commander In Chief since David Palmer that Jack was able to respect. Jack wanted to pay attention, to really absorb what she had to say. But the sweat was already stinging his eyes and his attention span wasn’t what it needed to be.

His body went into autopilot as Jack retreated into his own mind.

President Taylor had virtually become Jack’s fairy godmother, a distant and benevolent presence. The had only met in person a couple of times since Jack had woken from the coma, but her influence was everywhere. Especially here at Camp David.

David Palmer’s universal health care bill had proven so popular that not even Charles Logan or Noah Daniels had dared mess with it. Even so, Jack knew his care must have been very, very expensive. Kim had explained to her father that it was Taylor who had ordered that absolutely no effort be spared in saving his life. In return, the CDC and the university funding the stem-cell experiment would have their very own human test subject years before the FDA would have approved the technique for human trails. It was a fair exchange.

There had been some interesting side effects: His metabolism had increased. Some of his scars were fading. His hair was slightly fuller. He slept like a baby.

Some of the other side-effects were less pleasant.

Jack wondered exactly what it was he had done to earn Taylor’s gratitude or why the she would even care about his well-being. That day was a half-remembered dream.

With so many resources being spent on his recovery, Jack wasn’t going to complain about an irritating physical therapist.

“Okay, Bauer. That's time.” Andre handed Jack a towel at arms length, as if slightly repulsed by Jack’s prodigious perspiration.

Jack stopped peddling, grabbed the towel and buried his face in the soft material. His heart was pounding and his legs felt like rubber.

He looked up at the TV. Taylor must have ended her speech, as the image of her standing before the podium had been replaced by the usual GNN talking heads. Had he zoned out during her speech? Jack was frustrated with himself, this was one of those days were his mind was as enfeebled as his body.

Andre pulled the tab on a can of vanilla Ensure. “Drink up.”

Every calorie Jack consumed and expended was carefully measured, with easy-to-digest liquid meals making up any shortfall. The staff dietitian was adamant that Jack not lose any more weight. Not on her watch, not with the President looking on.

At least the Ensure was cold. Jack finished the beverage in a few efficient gulps. Too fast, as now he had the Ensure equivalent of an ice-cream headache. He slammed his eyes shut to ward of the nausea.

“It’s happening again,” Andre noted.

“I’m fine,” Jack countered. But not before he half-tumbled off the bicycle. He felt Andre catch him. He half-carried Jack over to the wheelchair.

“I’ll get Jamal.”

••••

Jamal was one of two private nurses. He was incomprehensively gentle. He almost made up for Andre.

By the time the big nurse got Jack back to his room the migraine was in full force. This time, it had started at the base of his neck and radiated upwards to his eyes, making his brain a soggy, swollen mass that was two sizes too small for his skull.

Jamal lifted Jack on to his bed and rolled him to one side. A moment later, Jack felt the waistband of his sweatpants pulled down and the familiar coldness of an alcohol swab.

“Just a shot of codeine,” Jamal said in his sing-song distinctive Caribbean accent. Jack felt the syringe enter his left buttock a second later. Jamal placed a plastic bucket next to his bed. He took off Jack’s sneakers and covered him with a light blanket. Even though it was a warm spring day Jack was shivering.

Jamal stood up for a moment and drew the blinds. The light made the migraine worse.

By now the drug was taking effect. Jack stayed perfectly still, his breathing becoming slow and deep as his brain unclenched. Maybe this time he wouldn’t vomit. That would be progress.

Jamal checked Jack’s pulse and blood pressure, staying silent the whole time. Noise was painful now. The nurse took up his position in a chair next to the bed and waited.

••••

The migraines were a side-effect of the treatment. Injecting engineered stem-cells directly into his brain was bound to cause some problems. Jack tried to bear the headaches stoically but the symptoms were impossible to hide.

Jack was impatient with himself that this particular type of pain had proved so debilitating. Wasn’t he supposed to be good with pain? Much of his life felt like it had been lived by someone else, yet Jack remembered all varieties of pain.

Jack remembered so much else: he had taken his athletic gifts for granted. He had been a fast runner and a strong swimmer. He had been able stay wide awake for days at a time. He could engage in hand-to-hand combat, gun fights, disarm nuclear weapons. He could drive any vehicle and fly a variety of aircraft. His compact size allowed him to crawl into small spaces. He had been as skilled at inflicting pain as he was at enduring it.

Had he really occupied that body? The body that had performed so well and had been treated so badly?

"Sometimes even to live is an act of courage." He remembered the quote - Seneca? Yes, that must have been it. Jack had read that somewhere. Possibly during his undergraduate days, one of the few times in his life he had allowed himself to read something that wasn’t immediately practical According to his father, his choice of an English Major had not been practical. Jack had thrown in some philosophy courses as well. Partially to piss off his old man, but also because he genuinely wanted to explore the quandaries posed by his own existence.

He didn’t find the quote particularly inspiring. He wasn’t alive today because of an act of courage. Not his own. It was Kim who had made the decision for him. He wasn’t angry, or grateful, or anything at all. His survival was a fact.

For all his shortcomings, Andre never questioned whether or not Jack would make a full recovery. The question was how long it would take, and to what degree.

So much work to do. But not before he took a nap.

••••

By the next morning the migraine was gone. After eating his prescribed breakfast Jamal took him to the gym. Andre was already waiting.

For once, the therapist looked embarrassed.

“Look, Bauer,” he said. “I think I may have been pushing you too hard, and that is what could have triggered the migraine. I’ll just say that I looked at your file and you seem like such a tough guy.”

Was it possible for Andre to be any more patronizing?

“We’ll go easy today. Some free weights. And then some swimming.”

Jack was tempted. Then he remembered that he was still sitting in his wheelchair. Swimming was excellent cardio, but what he needed was something weight-bearing, that was the only way he was going to get back on his feet.

“No. I want the bike.”

THE END.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Apr. 13th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
Can't wait to have my say
Hi - I am certainly delighted to discover this. Good job!
marinw
Apr. 13th, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Can't wait to have my say
Glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for reading.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )