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ARMY CORPS OF ARCHITECTS

Title: Army Corps Of Architects
Characters: Bill/Karen/Jack
Rating: PG
Summary:Post Day 6. Bill and Karen try to save their marriage
Disclaimer: 24 was the Property of Fox. Still is I guess.
A/N: As sardonicynic has so aptly pointed out, one thing that drove us all crazy about Day 6 is the lack of literal and figurative fallout from part of L.A. being hit with a nukoolar bomb. I also refuse to abandon my wank that Bill and Karen attempted to take care of Jack after he got back from China. This fic is a companion to A Pocket-Sized Apocalypse which I wrote years ago. Title is taken from the Death Cab For Cutie song of the same name. Written for the 24n’more "Tag: You're it" Challenge. This is second of three Bill-Centric Tag challenges. Thanks to leigh57 for the beta.

You said the urn was half full
And I said it was half empty.
With what was left of our fair city.

"Army Corps Of Architects" by Death Can For Cutie


The FBI had turned his tidy house upside-down. Bill set about putting things right and putting things away. He wanted Karen to feel comfort, to feel a sense of order when she returned the L.A.

If she returned to LA.

She’s resigned as Director of Homeland Security. What could be keeping her in Washington? Bill thought.

Bill tried to give Karen the benefit of the doubt. He accepted her explanations about debriefs and the tying up of loose ends.

Bill still wanted to trust her.

Yet their phone calls were strained and distant. They needed to talk in person.

The paper, TV news and internet were filled with stories about Valencia. The crowded hospitals, the mounting deaths from radiation. The fallout zone had metastasized beyond Valencia and into the surrounding neighborhoods. CDC was busy setting up triage and handing out thousands of doses of iodine.

Chloe was fretting over the effect of radiation on her baby. It was an all-too-valid concern.

Bill wanted to help with the relief and clean-up efforts, but he doubted he would be welcome. The bomb had gone off under his watch. The CDC, FEMA and Emergency Services all knew who he was.

The sun was setting over L.A., a sunset that seemed even more lurid than usual. Bill drove home from the hospital where he had been visiting with a heavily sedated Doyle. He had undergone cornea transplants a few days earlier. The prognosis was uncertain.

The prognosis for everything was uncertain.

Bill parked his truck and wearily entered his house.

I don’t want to live here anymore, he realized.

He wondered what kind of price a house in a potentially irradiated city would fetch. His part of L.A. was clean (at least so far) but property values would plunge anyway.

The least of my problems.

••••

Karen arrived home the following morning on the Red Eye from Washington. Flights in and out of LAX were restricted so her options were limited. She took a taxi from the airport.

“You should have called me. I could have picked you up,” Bill said.

“I didn’t want to bother you.”

“I’m not busy.”

Shit. There it was. The fact that Karen had fired Bill. Here Bill was in the middle of the workweek, leisurely sitting over coffee and the breakfast of yogurt, pastries, fruit and coffee he had presented to Karen as a peace offering.

“I have plenty of time on my hands too,” Karen answered.

“I don’t want our marriage to be one of the day’s casualties.” That was Bill’s new mantra.

“We’ll work through this, Bill.”

Their conversation was interrupted by their house guest entering the dining room.

“Jack!” Karen said. She searched for her next words. “It’s…good to see you.”

“Yeah… you too.” Jack answered sincerely.

“Have some breakfast,” Bill suggested.

Jack glanced downward at his right hand. Karen could not help but stare. “I’m not supposed to eat.”

“The surgery. It’s today, isn’t it?” Bill realized. “I’ll drive you to the clinic.”

“That’s okay. I’ll take a cab.”

“It’s fine, Jack. Let Bill drive you. I need to get some sleep,” Karen said.

Bill could feel Karen’s eyes on Jack. Sizing him up, trying to analyze the damage. Bill realized that Karen hadn’t seen Jack since the day David Palmer was killed. The day Jack was taken, the day Edgar died and Logan was arrested. To Karen Jack must look thinner and older. She saw the scars that were visible and hints of the scars that weren’t.

Jack stood still and allowed Karen’s scrutiny. Her curiosity.

At least she was seeing him clean shaved and in new clothes. The image of Jack shuffling out of the plane in a bedraggled prison uniform and a full beard would not soon leave Bill’s mind.

As Karen left the dining room she placed a hand on Jack’s shoulder. Jack responded with a slight flinch.

“Jack, I’m glad you’re back, I really am. You’re welcome to stay with us as long as you need to.”

“Thank you,” Jack said softly, his eyes on the floor.

“I know we need to talk. About a lot of things.”

“Yeah”

••••

Bill and Karen still shared a bed. But they hadn’t made love since Karen’s return to L.A.

It was a matter of simple logistics-Bill was too tall for the couch and Jack was occupying the one guest room. Despite his now-unemployed existence, Bill still insisted on a good night’s rest whenever that once-rare opportunity presented itself. A habit that persisted after years of unpredictable hours and more than a few all-nighters at CTU.

And it was a very large bed.

Practicality over emotion. It was their way.

Bill’s dreams of mushroom clouds were interrupted by a distinctive and now-familiar baritone scream.

“The nightmares. They’ve been happening a lot lately,” Karen groggily noted.

“I think he’s getting worse,” said Bill

“Can’t they prescribe anything?”

“They did. Jack won’t take the pills. And I can’t force him. I should go check on him.”

As Bill got out of bed he felt Karen’s hand on his back. A familiar touch of reassurance and affection.

Bill didn’t return the gesture. He couldn’t. Not yet.

She’s trying. I need to try harder too, Bill thought.

Los Angeles is partly irradiated, my marriage is in trouble, my career is over and I have a traumatized agent in my guest room.

••••

Jack had borrowed Bill’s truck and had driven off on one of his mysterious errands.

Bill and Karen stood on their veranda, wine glasses in hand. The sunset was surreal with its colors. The Geiger counter was reading at the high end of normal.

Bill and Karen had been talking. For hours. Saying the things that needed to be said.

“There’s one more thing, Bill,” Karen Said. “It’s about Jack...”

“You want him to leave. So do I.”

“How do we broach the topic?”

“We don’t have too. Jack wants to leave too. We’ve talked about it. The surgery on his hand was successful. His ribs are almost healed. He’s put on some weight. Physically he’s in good shape, considering everything. The kind of healing he still needs to do can’t be done in L.A.”

“So what’s keeping him here?”

“It’s my fault. Jack doesn't just want to leave L.A, he wants to leave the country. But the paperwork for his passport is taking awhile, and he’s on a no-fly list for high-jacking that diplomatic flight. If he wanted to Jack could find a way over the border to Canada or Mexico. Stow away on a ship. But I convinced him to wait until we can get him the necessary documents. Jack deserves to travel wherever he wants. I think we can do that much for him.”

“Let me help. I can call in a favor at Homeland Security regrading the no-fly list.”

“How many favors do you have left?”

“Not many. But enough to do this.”

••••

Jack left the day after he received his passport and was assured hassle-free passage out of the United States.

It was like the adult son they never had finally moving out of the basement.

There was no longer any reason to stay in L.A. Bill and Karen left for Vermont, not even bothering to put their house on a depressed market.

With their government pensions and Karen’s inheritance they were able to live comfortably. They settled into the fullness of a Vermont summer, with tennis and swimming and shopping at the Farmer’s Market. Karen finally had time to nurture her inner Martha Stewart. A garden of herbs and vegetables soon flourished in their yard.

They had time to repair their relationship. It was the most time they had spent together since they were married.

At first Jack sent Bill the odd e-mail from Eastern Europe, but those soon stopped.

The guilt was still here. It was there every time Bill and Karen opened the paper or checked the news sites. L.A. was struggling to repair itself, and President Daniels was being oddly stingy about releasing federal funds for the ongoing relief efforts. The president was more concerned about how the country’s continued vulnerability to terrorist attacks. So Daniels developed elaborate security to protect mediocre or sub-standard infrastructure.

The guilt was there because Bill was living a comfortable life in Vermont while the remnants of CTU struggled in L.A.

Bill correctly assessed that he was too young and too fit and too skilled to be useless.

“We should be there, Karen. We should help clean up the mess. Our work isn’t finished yet.”

They were standing on the deck of their well-appointed house, looking out over the lake. So different than the Pacific Ocean.

Karen put her hand on Bill’s arm. “We will find a way to be useful again. I know we will. For now let’s enjoy the time we have. We never spent this much time together.”

“You’re right, Karen.” They kissed.

Career. Marriage. Career. Marriage....

Bill had lost one of those things. He still had the other.

THE END.


Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
cybertoothtiger
Nov. 4th, 2011 03:00 am (UTC)
Holy cow, this was long for you! Well done, m'dear.

I like this. It's true that there isn't nearly enough acknowledgement of a nuclear bomb. Going off. In L.A. I mean, WTF? Really. Nice detail about Daniels and the funding.

I can see Bill feeling guilty, and I think you capture the tension and awkwardness between them really well. I love that Jack is staying with them like an adult son in the basement. Maybe they should stop cooking with cheese.
marinw
Nov. 4th, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
Maybe they should stop cooking with cheese.

HeHe. It took a moment for that reference to sink in.

I just can't let go of my wank that early post-China Jack must've been the Worst Houseguest Ever. One thing I like about Homeland is how Brody sleeps on the floor and seems to be going through the motions of a normal life.

It was a *little* nokuloor bomb, but still. Oy.

Thanks for reading.
xbedhead
Nov. 4th, 2011 08:47 am (UTC)
It WAS long for you! I really liked it, though. I love when you write Bill because you have such a...sparse writing style, it's very practical and very Bill-like.

Channeling her inner-Martha Stewart, eh? She even kind of looks like her!
marinw
Nov. 4th, 2011 01:52 pm (UTC)
Did you see Red? Helen Mirren plays a contract killer who keeps a perfectly decorated New England home. Jayne Atkinson reminds me of her. And Martha.

"Sparse". Hehe. That's a polite way of putting it.
adrenalin211
Nov. 4th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
I love Bill and Karen! I wish they could have had more time together on the show/viewers could have seen them together more.

It was nice to see them in the same space. Watching over Jack, no less.
marinw
Nov. 4th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
I'm in website update HELL today, so thank you for your comments.

I ship Blaren so hard. I love myself a pair of mature adults! I'm also intrigued about how they didn't seem to spend that much time together after they got married.
leigh57
Nov. 7th, 2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
There is just not enough Bill/Karen fic in the world, and that is the truth. Thanks for doing your part to make it a little less true.

Waugh, I love the idea of them all fractured and messed up and not communicating properly, because it's so realistic in the aftermath of this situation.

And ugh, poor Jack. His suck life that keeps on sucking.

Bonus points for letting Bill and Karen have the 24 version of a happy ending without making everything all shiny and perfect!
marinw
Nov. 7th, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)
I wank they had a happy shiny life until Day 7. I watched eps 7x03 and 7x04 last night and Bill seems-well, not OOC, but different. I'm trying to wrap my head around that now for the next challenge.

Blaren makes me stretch my imagination because I have NEVER been married and have no experience into what makes a marriage work. In the case of this fictional marriage, I'm guessing talking things out, giving each other the right amount of space is what helped. As you pointed out during the beta, Karen seemed much more career-driven than Bill, although both worked very hard. They had both lost their jobs in Day 6, so they are struggling to hold on to what they stay have.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )