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A POCKET-SIZED APOCALYPSE

Posted in 24_fanfic

Title: A Pocket-Sized Apocalypse
Author: marinw
Characters: Bill/Karen/Jack
Rating: PG for angst
Summary: Set ten or so days after Day 6. Bill and Karen reunite and contend with a difficult house guest.
Disclaimer: 24 is the property of the Fox Production Company. Work out an interim agreement already, well ya?
A/N: I know there are other people besides Jack in the 24’verse, and not everything is about our favorite Tragic Hero. This fic was supposed to be a strictly Bill/Karen affair. Then Jack showed up. I’m kinda glad he did.


Bill tried to tell himself that this was a vacation. But he wasn’t fooling anyone.

Bill wasn’t on vacation. He wasn’t taking a breather, or taking some time to re-asses his life. Or pursuing new opportunities. Or taking early retirement. Or any other euphemism. He had been fired. It was that simple. Nadia still allowed him into CTU, but it wasn’t the same.

He was unemployed. For the first time in his adult life.

It wasn’t as if Bill couldn’t use some time off. But not now. The death of Fayed and the recovery of the suitcase nukes had left a vacuum that some other organization would soon fill. The nation was still vulnerable and somebody was going to take advantage of that. A lifetime of experience had taught Bill that he could never, ever let his guard down.

But terrorism wasn’t his problem anymore.

He still woke up at 5:00 am. The only difference was that his morning run along the beach was longer than usual. After showering Bill was halfway into a black Hugo Boss suit when he realized how unsuitable that costume was for…his current situation. Bill settled on a pair of khakis and a navy sweater, which was as causal as he was willing to get on a weekday.

Coffee was the one addiction Bill allowed himself. As the expensive machine made its’ comforting brewing noises Bill turned on the TV.

He was greeted by the same image that had been playing on all the news networks for days: The mushroom cloud over Valencia.

“The death toll resulting from last week’s detonation has now reached 14,000 as more people have succumbed to radiation sickness. Estimates on final casualties are expected to exceed 20,000 as more people become ill. A perimeter has been erecting around the once-thriving suburb, and people are being strongly urged to avoid the area. Favorable winds have prevented even more damage. However…”

Why do I keep doing this to myself?

Bill filled his mug and took the rest of the carafe to the balcony which looked onto the narrow beach below. It had been a long time since he had taken the time to enjoy a sunrise.

But the sky looked somehow…different. Brighter. The colors were more garish and the clouds over the Pacific seemed strange. The atmosphere was still swimming with chemicals. Bill glanced at the Geiger counter he had attached underneath the railing, He was relieved when it read just above normal.

“Bill?”

Bill turned to see Karen. She was impeccably dressed as always in a pinstriped suit and a white blouse, but she looked exhausted. She had probably been up all night. There seemed to be million loose ends for her to take care of. But she was here now.

There was so much they needed to talk about. But for now they just kissed and embraced. Despite everything that had happened, Karen was still his wife. He wanted it to stay that way.

It was just politics. It was nothing personal Bill had to convince himself of that. He would have to respect Karen’s decision. He would have to find a way to forgive her. She had made sacrifices, too.

That conversation would have to come later. Right now all Bill would ask of her were the simple facts.

“When did you get back?” Bill asked.

“About thirty minutes ago. I took the red eye from Washington, and then a taxi.”

“You should have called me. I would have picked you up.”

“It’s early.”

“You need sleep.”

“Not as much as I need coffee.”

Bill poured his wife a cup. They enjoyed a few moments of silence watching the sunrise until that silence felt strained.

“I rented the Washington apartment to a friend of Tom’s.”

“That makes sense. How’s the President?”

“Still in a coma. It doesn’t look good. Daniels is already thinking about the next election. I don’t trust him, Bill.”

“I don’t either.”

Karen squeezed his arm. “I’m so sorry, Bill. I can’t say that enough.”

“You destroyed my career, Karen. What am I suppose to do with that?” He tried to keep the anger from his voice.

“I did what was necessary. My career is over, too.”

“Karen, Los Angeles is still a mess. The Nation is still a mess. We have to do something. We have to find a way another way of making ourselves useful.”

Karen caressed one of Bill’s prominent cheekbones. “We will, Bill, we will. We‘ll find a way to contribute. This country still needs us. But it isn’t going to be easy.”

“I know that, Karen. I still feel responsible for CTU. I haven’t stopped caring about my people.”

“And how are your people?”

“I went to see Doyle yesterday. It wasn’t much of a visit. He underwent cornea transplants two days ago. He’s so agitated they have to keep him sedated. Probably just as well, I don’t think I could have handled any more of his self-recrimination. Division still haven’t replaced Nadia, but now that the dust is beginning to settle she’s doing quite well.”

“She does seem quite competent.”

“She is,” Bill said with what sounded suspiciously like parental pride. “Chloe’s been ordered to take a few days off. She agreed that she needs to take care herself now that she’s pregnant.”

“I find that a little hard to imagine,” Karen said.

“So does Morris. He’s a little shocked.” Said Bill.

“And what about Jack?”

As if on cue, a baritone scream emerged from the open window of the upstairs guest room. Karen was startled. She quickly composed herself, but not before the remains of the now-lukewarm coffee spilled from her cup.

Bill handed Karen a napkin. “He does that a lot,” Bill noted. “The specialist I spoke to says that it’s normal.”

She wiped her sticky fingers. “I don’t think that anything about Jack Bauer can be described as ‘normal’.”

“I’m sorry, Karen. I didn’t want him to go back to that tiny apartment where Division found him. He deserves better. I convinced him to come back here when he was released from the clinic.”

“You don’t have to apologize, Bill. Jack can stay here as long as he needs. We have plenty of room.”

“Jack won’t be staying here for more than a few days. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t intend to remain in LA. I’m taking care of the paperwork: Jack has his bank account and driver’s license and social security card. CTU is picking up the tab for all his medical expenses. So he’s just here to…take care of a few things.” Bill didn’t elaborate further. He felt the need to protect at least some of Jack’s privacy.

“That’s fine, Bill. It’s good that you’re taking care of him. I know what that means to you. I’ll help in any way I can.”

“I appreciate that, Karen. But I should warn you: Jack is going through a period of…re-adjustment. He’s not the easiest house guest.”

That was an understatement. Bill felt obligated to keep an eye on his friend, but knew that Jack would bolt if he felt that he was being babysat. Every time Jack borrowed Bill’s second car, Bill wondered if he was coming back. But Bill couldn’t keep him prisoner. Jack’s appetite had improved but his sleeping patterns were extremely erratic. The bottle of sleeping pills that the clinic had prescribed was still full, and Bill wasn’t about to press the issue. Not after he had read the report on Division’s debriefing. Jack spent hours watching the endless news coverage of the detonation or walking along the beach.

Jack was terrible at small talk, which left him and Bill with the bigger topics. They had talked about China, about the trade with Fayed, about Audrey and Kim. About Karen and CTU. About what the hell they were supposed to do now. They both needed to talk, and Jack had proven to be surprisingly perceptive. But it was impossible for Bill not to broadcast the almost-visible waves of guilt which Jack would instantly pick up on. Jack couldn’t always control his anger. There were also times that Jack’s endless questioning was in danger of escalating into a full-on interrogation.

No. Jack was not an easy house guest.

“I should go check on him. I won’t be long. Then I’ll make us all some breakfast,” Bill said.

“Take your time. I’m going to take a shower.” She touched his arm once more. “Bill. It’s okay, really.”

Bill’s heart warmed at Karen’s reassurance. His marriage was going to survive. He would make sure of it.

Bill quietly walked up the steps to the spare room. The door opened silently.

Seeing the perpetually active agent resting was one of the most disconcerting sights that Bill had ever witnessed. The nightmare that had caused the screaming seemed not to have wakened him. Now Jack seemed to be in a slightly more peaceful stage of sleep, soothed perhaps by the sounds of waves crashing on the shore and the cool morning breeze. His unusually long eyelashes sat on his high cheekbones, and his mouth was frozen into a slight frown. He was supine, and his left hand lay protectively on the lower right quadrant of his damaged ribcage. Bill was almost positive that there was a gun underneath the mattress.

Jack had apparently fallen asleep fully dressed in his uniform of jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. He lay on top of the bedspread. At least this time he had taken off his boots.

The sight made Bill sad. Karen was right: Jack wasn’t normal. Normal people put on pajamas and got beneath the sheets and blankets. Jack had forgotten how to behave normally. Bill hoped that these simple things could all be relearned.

Bill went downstairs to start breakfast. He was grateful that Jack was still sleeping. He was desperate to talk to his wife. Privately.

On his way to the kitchen Bill passed the living room where the television had been left on. The volume was muted, but the mushroom cloud was still visible.

END

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Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
xbedhead
Jan. 13th, 2008 05:14 am (UTC)
Oh my GOD - that hurt to read. I'm not even exagerrating. I've got that dull ache in the chest I get every once in a while from a particularly good read. This was one of them.

WOW.

I'm still....yeah. SO great.

The Bill and Karen interaction was fantastic - Bill's struggle to balance his frustration with his desire to save his marriage, Karen's apologetic, yet exhausted demeanor. I could hear both of them as they were talking. And the details like the Geiger counter and the Hugo Boss suit - you know I'm in love with details.

Jack's introduction was so painfully charged. I could see him so easily, lying in the half-light on top of the bed with the frown on his face. And Bill's observation of just how not normal Jack was/is now.

Fantastic.

And I cannot express how much love I have for the title. I swear it's probably my favorite.

*adds to memories*

Edited at 2008-01-13 05:15 am (UTC)
marinw
Jan. 13th, 2008 06:34 pm (UTC)
Aw, you added this fic to your memories * Beams *.

I tend to write my fics to match my titles rather than the reverse, Welcome to the wakiness that passes for my thought processes.

So glad you enjoyed the Bill/Karen interaction. I was trying to create the right mix of angst and hopefulness. This was a bit of a challenge for me as I’m usually not into relationship fic.

And who wouldn’t be a little freaked out by Post-China Jack?

Thank you for the lovely FB.
celestialjules
Jan. 9th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
WOW. I have to agree with the previous comment that this actually hurt to read.

PostChina Jack is so heart breaking and you capture that so perfectly. You seem to have this direct insight into his personality his thoughts and his actions.

I know this may sound a tiny bit corny... but would you like to chat sometime on Yahoo... I have so little 24fan friends... I'm in desprate need of someone who actually watches the show and likes it to talk with. lol
marinw
Jan. 9th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)
Thanks for the invite, but I spend too much time on LJ so I stay out of chat groups!

Have you checked out 24_fanfic?

I had great fun with Post China Jack. The canon didn't deal with it that well.
celestialjules
Jan. 9th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
I understand about the uber time on LJ I use to be on here way way much... lately life has gotten in the way, but I wasn't actually inviting you to a group chat... just wasn't sure if you ever IMed. The friend who turned me on to 24 about 2 weeks ago has had it up to here with me and my never ending desire to discuss everything and anything I can about it. lol

24_fanfic is actually where I found you, I read your lastest story... I can't remember the title of it at the moment but I read it and then came to your LJ and the rest as they say is history.

I love finding people who actually have talent, and write for fandoms that I am slightly obessed with. :-) This find has made my otherwise boring night much better.

I'm not sure if anyone else feels the same way, but I was very disappointed with season 6. Having Post China Jack set them up for alot, and the first few episodes with Jack being all "I can't do this/I don't know how to do this anymore" where great. I liked the change, I liked the fact that they made him somewhat breakable. But then towards the end, especially once they got into that stupid sub-circut board part and the whole Josh thing really just kind of threw me and I didn't really like at all.

Okay, I'm stopping now.... sorry for ranting on your journal.

marinw
Jan. 9th, 2009 01:39 am (UTC)
24 can eat your brain. It's unusual for me to like "Spy" dramaas, I'm more of a sci-fi geekess.

TPTB treatment of Post-China Jack was one of the flaws of Day 6 we fic writers have been struggling with ever since.

Thank you for the kind words * blushes *
celestialjules
Jan. 9th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
TPTB?

It does eat your brain! I know I'm not really a crime drama type person I stick to sci-fi and fantasy... but 24... ahhh it just came outta no where. And I was never a Keifer fan either... until 2 weeks ago... now I'm lurve.

No blushing... all the truth :-) and your welcome.
marinw
Jan. 9th, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)
My reaction as well. Kiefer snuck up on me gradually.

time for bed...

TPTB: The Powers That Be (Producers, writers, etc)
leigh57
Dec. 8th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
Aw, Bill and Karen! What is my weird deal with wanting fic about them right now? I'm even tempted to go back and watch parts of S6, for the love of all things crazy -- what the hell is that about?

I really like the way you weave the tentative state of Bill and Karen's marriage in with the Jack storyline. In a way, Bill seems to be trying to take care of everyone (which is very in-character for him), and I love to read that.

Finally, I like that Jack and Bill actually talked, because that seemed surprisingly real to me. If there's a friend I think Jack would be likely to trust, it's Bill, so that part made me happy in the middle of all the PTSD/nuclear meltdown mess. Thanks for pointing me here!
marinw
Dec. 8th, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
Welcome to my Day 6 issues. There were two fucking years between between Days 6 and 7 (Thank you, writer's strike) and I had waaaaaay too much time to think about Jack and Bill. I shared with xbedhead a huge need to write Bill taking care of Jack, even though there's almost nothing in the canon to back that particular wank. Bill/Jack smarm makes me all happy and meepy.

Did Jack even HAVE PTSD? I's say yes, from the Day 6 debriefs which you don't want to watch. I'll watch anything that has "Jack" and "Debrief" in the same storyline. I'm weak that way.

And why isn't LA? a post-nuclear wasteland? Because they were little nukes? Oy.*beats dead horse* We never see LA after Day 6, so how would we know?
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