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Posted in 24_fanfic

Title: Creature Comforts
Author: marinw
Rating: PG for smarm
Characters: wet!Jack/Bill/mentions of Karen
Summary: Post Day 6. Jack visits Vermont and decides what to do next.
Disclaimer: 24 is the property of the Fox Production Company. Etc.
A/N: Well. I am hereby tossing out of most of my Post Day 6 personal canon in light of eagerly anticiapted canon Africa!Jack. How much of my master list I’ll have to lable “AU” remains to be seen. Thanks to my wonderful beta sardonicynic. The cargo shorts are for xbedhead.

The dawn brought with it the promise of peaceful sleep.

Jack kept odd hours. Until recently he had fallen asleep sometime after midnight. Collapsing on the bed in the guest room fully dressed, not even bothering to take his shoes off.

In the past week something had changed. He had taken the time to put on a fresh t-shirt and boxers, and climbed underneath the sheets and duvet, just heavy enough to keep the cool night air at bay.

He always slept with the blinds open. With the morning sun he woke to find himself covered up to his waist by the light duvet. His ribs had healed to the point where he could comfortably lie on his side. The mattress was firm, just the way he liked it. One pillow was underneath his head and his arms were wrapped around another pillow as if it had taken the place of an absent lover. This felt wonderful. Why had he resisted sleeping in this manner for so long?

Jack tried to go back to sleep but the bedroom was becoming warm and he was now fully alert. Climbing out of bed, he went to the window. The sunlight sparkled on the lake invitingly.

Jack kept his t-shirt on as he dove off the dock. The lake was cold but the water was soft and fresh. A strictly enforced bylaw prevented the use of jet skis and power boats, so the lake was clean and safe.

He had once been an excellent swimmer. He still was, when necessary. Some of his fondest memories were of teaching Kim how to swim. Now, his lack of strength and endurance dismayed him.

Every day he managed to swim a little farther before turning back. The t-shirt clung to his chest in some places and made air pockets in others. It wasn’t a good thing to wear while swimming. Sooner or later someone was going to see his naked arms and torso. As Jack swam away from the dock, he worked on a list of explanations:

The hand was easy: barbeque accident. The burns on his upper arms: during a very drunken night of Delta Force revelry, he had dared an equally inebriated buddy to put out cigars on his person. That was just silly enough to be plausible. His back: he was mauled by a grizzly bear. Or a mountain lion. No, that wouldn’t work. The wounds didn’t look like claw marks.

When he reached the halfway point (two docks farther than yesterday) he treaded water while he caught his breath. The trees were covered in a million shades of green leaves. Soft, puffy clouds were beginning to form in the endless sky. The scent of wildflowers growing on the shore filled his nostrils.

This was summer in rural Vermont. He had forgotten that the world could be this beautiful.

He had forgotten his pre-emptive dose of ibuprophin. By the time Jack swam back to a dock his entire upper body hurt, but in a good way. It was the pleasant soreness he felt after a vigorous workout and not the agony of his wrists being chained from the ceiling until his hands lost sensation and both shoulders were dislocated. Jack shook his head violently, trying to fling the memory away with the drops of water.

Shivering, he went back into the house and entered the bathroom attached to the guest room. It was ridiculous how he still marveled at the amenities provided by modern plumbing. He could crap or piss or vomit into a toilet that flushed so he wouldn’t have to sit with the smell of his own waste.

He stripped off the t-shirt and board shorts. He usually ran the shower just above lukewarm, but now his teeth were chattering and his flesh had erupted in goose bumps. He made the water hot but not scalding.

Every morning he discovered hot running water for the first time. As the water hit him Jack let out an orgasmic groan. He had no words for how good this felt. He stood there for a moment, almost dazed, as drops of water caught themselves in his long eyelashes and gathered in the his chest hair. The shampoo and soap smelled distinctly girly but he didn’t care as he scrubbed away the filth that wasn’t there.

He shut off the shower and buried himself in a huge towel, allowing the soft fibers to caress his skin. He pulled on the robe Bill had loaned him before wiping away the steam that had gathered on the mirror. He just wasn’t ready to look at himself yet. Dr. Schreber had told Jack that he had “body image issues,” a term he hadn’t heard since he and Teri had discussed Kim’s teenaged foray into crash dieting.

He brushed the sleep out of his teeth and shaved off a fresh growth of stubble. He took a moment to stroke the luxurious newly-smooth skin of his chin and jaw.

He had managed to gain a few pounds since his return but had given up on ever getting back up to his pre-China weight. There were worse things than being a little lean. Yesterday Jack had borrowed Bill’s car and had gone to one of New England’s famous outlet malls. At Eddie Bauer he had stocked up on sturdy, practical clothes. He regarded the neatly folded pile now. They were all new, and when they got dirty he could wash them. Astonishing.

It was going to be a warm day. Jack slipped on his boxers and a pair of brown, knee-length cargo shorts. He applied silicon ointment to all the wounds he could reach. He couldn’t bring himself to ask Bill or Karen for help with the other ones. He pulled a fingerless elastic glove over his right hand. It was suppose to minimize the scarring.

Next, Jack pulled on a white t-shirt made of a special organic cotton that was soft against his raw skin. It was short-sleeved, but that was okay, as his arms from the mid-biceps down weren’t too badly off.

Of all his tattoos, only the Virgin had survived the time in China. For years he had resented being marked this way, as the Virgin was the ersatz coat-of-arms for the Salazar family. Now he found her presence oddly comforting.

Jack slipped his large feet into flip-flops and went downstairs to the kitchen. Bill and Karen had established their own morning routines and had instructed Jack to help himself to whatever he liked. There was even a half-pot of coffee still on the counter. It smelled wonderful but Jack couldn’t drink the stuff, it ate holes in his stomach lining. Instead, he pulled a can of Canada Dry from the refrigerator. The ginger ale would keep any post-meal nausea at bay.

He melted a chunk of butter in a frying pan and added three large brown eggs, which he scrabbled with whole milk, salt and pepper. As the eggs cooked he heated some leftover mashed potatoes in the microwave. Not the most orthodox breakfast, but it had a lot of calories and would be easy to digest. He did add a few plump strawberries; they were well worth the risk to his delicate stomach.

He sat down at the large wooden table and put the first forkful in his mouth. God, this was good. Karen had told him that the eggs were the product of a very happy locally-owned hen. Whatever. He was beginning to enjoy eating again.

As Jack ate he leafed through the thin local newspaper and was bemused by the inconsequential nature of the reportage: Squabbles over bylaws and proposed developments. A few break and enters. The biggest scandal rocking the town was the result of the mayor being charged with her third DUI.

Could life really be that simple?

For a few minutes the existential clouds vanished and Jack was content. He was rested, exercised, clean, fed and entertained. His hosts had provided him with the basic creature comforts, and that was what he needed to feel human again. For now. If only that were enough.

Bill entered the kitchen He was wearing white shorts and a perspiration-soaked polo, which meant that he had just come from the tennis court. Without preamble he handed Jack a small brown envelope. “This came in today’s mail.”

“Thanks” Jack opened the envelope and retrieved the small document. It was a new passport. His passport. He opened it to the first page, ensuring all the data was accurate.

Bill poured himself a mug of coffee. “It wasn’t easy, but Karen managed to get you removed from the no-fly list. You’ll be fine in North America, but you should stay out of East Asia.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. He was on a no-fly list? Is that why he and Bill had flown here on a private jet?

“You did hijack a diplomatic flight, Jack.”

“Yeah. Where is Karen?”

“She went to the farmer’s market. Then she’s meeting her friends for coffee.”

“Her car is still here.”

“She took her bike.”

“Good for her.” Not too long ago the image of Karen Hayes riding a bicycle and gossiping over a double cappuccino would have been impossible to visualize. That was before Jack had come to know Karen as an actual person.

Bill sat down. “If you want to leave the country I won’t try to stop you. But I don’t think you’re ready yet. You’re still recovering.”

“I’m fine.” If I stay here I’ll never stop being an invalid.

Bill looked skeptical.

“I’m sleeping better. I’m eating. I work out. All the paperwork’s been taken care of.”

“There’s more to it than that.”

Jack knew what Bill meant. The nightmares. The furtive crying which Bill and Karen pretended not to notice. Jack’s now famous lapses into silence. The constant soreness of still-healing skin, bones, and muscles. On the surface of things he was functional, yet Jack knew he was still physically and psychologically fragile.

“You were right to bring me here. I did need some time. I appreciate everything you and Karen have done for me. I know I’m not easy to live with right now. But it’s time to go.”

“You’re not overstaying your welcome, Jack. Not at all.”

“It’s not that. There’s nothing here for me.”

He knew that sounded dangerously like self-pity.

“That’s not true. I don’t pretend to know how you feel. But I know you’ve been isolated. That can change. Be patient. Give yourself some time. You’ll find a place for yourself.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I think you’re running away.”

“That not what I’m doing. I need to get my life back. I can’t do that here. If I stay something is going to pull me back in. I can’t let that happen.”

“I can’t talk you out of this, can I?”

“No.” I have to change the subject. “What about you and Karen?”

“To be honest we’re both enjoying the time off. Eventually we’ll have to find another way of making ourselves useful.”

“You’re good at what you do, Bill. They should give you your job back.”

“I wouldn’t accept it even if they did. I don’t want to work for CTU anymore.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling. Look, can I use you office? I have some work to do.”


Jack went to the office and sat in front of Bill’s computer. He placed his new credit card next to the mouse. He had two years CTU back pay with interest. It was enough.

Before accessing the airlines he opened Google Earth. For several moments he watched the planet spin in front of him. The world was too damn small. He could go anywhere. Except China and the surrounding nation-states.

Northern Canada? Too cold. Indonesia? South America? Australia? Africa?

Less then an hour later, Jack printed out the itinerary.

Bill entered the office. He looked at the papers.

“When are you leaving?”


“What do you want me to do?”

“You can drive me to the airport.”




( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 22nd, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)

Lufs. Shower!Jack! Mmmm... Fantastic description. And all the little Easter Eggs you put in there: no-fly list, mountain-lion scars, Canada Dry! Lufs some more.

Eddie Bauer? Hmm. The man needs to get himself to MEC, methinks. Do they have MEC in Vermont? Probably not. The cargo shorts and t-shirt work for me, though.

Very nice.
Jun. 22nd, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)
Eddie Bauer is, indeed, a good source of practical clothes. Maybe that company is part of BXJ? Or Jack has a fashionable relative we haven’t seen yet?

I have an obsession with cargo pants. I have about * counts * 10 pairs. Pants can never have too many pockets. I find MEC good for running gear, hiking gear not so much. Don't think they have one in Vermont. Only in Canada? Pity.

Where was I? Ginger ale or ginger beer is a great cure for nausea. Couldn’t resist the mountain lion reference.

The irony of the no-fly list is that JB is EXACTLY the person you would want in a high jacking crisis. * Says hi to Jack *

Thanks for reading. This story is part of my “new” canon. More to follow.
Jun. 22nd, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC)
Bah. Eddie Bauer is for posers. Don't get me wrong, I love their stuff for hanging out in the lodge. *G* Ooo, and they're having a sale...

I wonder if MEC here carries more hiking gear? 'Cause it's got a very loyal following. Coast Mountain's good too.

I loves me some Canada Dry when I'm sick. Especially mixed with orange juice. Do you have Co-op in N.S.? Their brand of ginger ale is really good. Almost like ginger beer. Not good with orange juice though.
Jun. 22nd, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
We do have a co-op. It's holding it's own agianst the Superstore.

Propeller ginger beer is the best. Ginger tea works, too. Ginger anything.

I didn't mean to diss MEC. Most of my ruinning gear comes from there. But they think that only boys need cargo pants. What's up with that? Are they worried that side pockets will make our thighs look fat?

As long as we're off topic: I am resding The Lizard Cage per you reccomendation. I am trying to apprecaite on its own merits and not just as a breeeding ground for plot bunnies.
Jun. 22nd, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
I haven't tried Propeller. I'll have to look for it. We get Jamacian Ginger Beer, but it only comes in stubbies. In Australia you can get ginger beer in 2-L bottles, which is awesome.

Dare not diss the MEC. Although, I have to admit, poser=me. My favourite experiences of the mountains have to be sitting on a patio looking at them while enjoying a good cheese plate.

How do you like The Lizard Cage? It is rife with plot bunnies, isn't it? Which made me feel weird and shallow, because it's such a serious book. Karen Connelly was in my high school English class. We didn't like her because she thought she was better than us. Which, as it turns out... *G*
Jun. 22nd, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC)
So far, so good. I feel guilty about the plot bunnies too. If there are four (!) years betweem Days 6 and 7, will Jack spend sometime in a Buddist monastary, al la Lenord Cohen?

Is there a funny book about being a political prisioner? Or does such a beast only exsist in fan fic?
Jun. 22nd, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
Four years? Is that what they're saying? Boy, Jack ages well, doesn't he? Like a fine wine. Definitely quaffable.

I can't think of any funny books about political prisoners, just the TV show Hogan's Heroes, although they were P.O.W.s, so not quite the same.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )