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Posted in 24_fanfic

Title: Between Two Worlds
Author: marinw
Rating: PG
Characters: introspective!Jack
Summary: Post Day 6. Jack leaves the United States.A sequel to Creature Comforts.
Disclaimer: 24 is the property of the Fox Production Company. Etc.
A/N: Thanks to my beta sardonicynic

All he needed was the window seat.

It had been years since Jack had flown on a commercial aircraft. He had heard people complain about air travel. People (North Americans, at least) were spoiled. Long - haul economy class wasn’t bad at all. It was a vast improvement over his last trip across the Pacific.

Still, Jack felt the need to rub his back against the padded seat. The dry air made the itching worse than usual. He stared with the wonder of a small child at the huge clouds outside the window.

Oceanic Flight 814 flew towards Australia. It was going to be a long flight.

He was finally leaving the United States. There was little to keep him there. All of BXJ’s assets had been seized by the FBI. There were rumors that CTU could soon be disbanded. Budget cuts. Or something. He didn’t care.

He needed to make a clean break. It was a cliché because it was true.

He reached into his courier bag and pulled out one the books he had picked up at a used bookstore. He had planned to use the time to re-visit the beloved novels he hadn’t read since college. He had missed reading. He either had books and no time, or time and no books. Now he had both.

He wanted no more than justice - no more than justice. I rang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel - stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. I seemed to hear the whispered cry, “The Horror! The Horror!”

Perhaps Heart of Darkness wasn’t the best choice.

He leafed through some of the other books. He couldn’t concentrate. The printed words on the page wouldn’t register themselves in his mind. He would attempt Catch-22 later.

No matter. Jack had perfected the art of disappearing into his own mind. It was a skill he had developed to hold onto some piece of his sanity. It was impossible to explain to anyone who had never been imprisoned: the worse thing of all had been the endless, indeterminable stretches of time where Jack had been left alone in his cell with absolutely nothing to do. The boredom had been worse than the torture. The boredom had been torture.

Now, suspended 35,000 feet above the earth, he chose to do nothing. Nothing but think.

He had fantasized about his return to US soil many times: A daring rescue (for real this time) by an elite team of Navy Seals. A hero’s welcome with profuse apologies from the president and a hefty cash settlement for his troubles. A joyous, tear-filled reunion with Audrey and Kim. He would marry Audrey and they would move to the west coast of Canada, where Audrey would teach yoga and Jack would run a motorcycle shop. Kim would provide Jack with grandchildren whom he would dote on unabashedly. The fantasy was ridiculous when he thought about it now.

The reality had been so different.

Ever since he returned from China Jack felt caught between two worlds. Between China and whatever came next. America felt as alien as another planet. He had lived in that country, once, in a previous incarnation. This time the country didn’t feel like his. He didn’t belong there anymore. He was Gulliver amongst the Laputans.

He had tried not to sink into self-pity. It had been difficult.

After the night Division had found him Bill had appointed himself as Jack’s caretaker. Bill had arranged everything: The stay at a private clinic away from the Los Angeles hospitals filled with radiation victims. Bill had seen to it that the debriefings were conducted under relatively genteel conditions. Bill had even arranged a few visits with a surprisingly helpful psychiatrist. He had helped Jack with the mountains of paperwork which would prove that he was both alive and an American citizen.

Bill had done all this even though he and Karen had been stripped of their posts. They must have called in a lot of favors

Bill may have even held a screaming Jack in his arms when he had one of his nightmares. The way Jack had once held a three-year-old Kim, promising to personally kick the ass of any monster who dared to hide under her bed.

No - That couldn’t be right. Bill had been warned not to approach Jack when he was having a nightmare. Bill had been told that Jack was dangerous and violent in that state, that he could injure or even kill Bill without realizing what he was doing.

Dream or not, Bill never spoke of it and Jack never asked

Jack knew Bill had been motivated by a mixture of friendship and remorse. Jack never blamed Bill for the trade to Fayed, even if the decision had been based on incorrect intelligence. It was the only play that Bill could make. Bill still radiated guilt. Jack understood what that kind of guilt was like. He had understood ever since the morning he had put a bullet in the back of Ryan Chappelle’s head.

Jack had spent a few weeks at Bill and Karen’s Vermont home in an attempt to get his bearings. The house was comfortable but hardly extravagant, yet Jack found all the basic amenities impossibly decadent.

Still, the simple, effective combination of good food, rest, and exercise had done wonders for his physical condition.

When Jack felt himself growing dependent he knew it was time to leave.

He couldn’t bring himself to contact Kim, not when he knew that he would be leaving again. He couldn’t do that to her. He knew where she was. He hoped she was happy with the life she had chosen for herself.

Now he was once again traveling east, this time on a jumbo jet and not in the dank hold of a tanker.

After Jack had graduated with his almost useless degree in English literature, he had witnessed some of his friends plan backpacking trips to Nepal or South America. They were trying to ‘find themselves’ while avoiding the harsh realties of the late 1980’s labor market.

Young Jack had been contemptuous of his friends’ self-indulgence. He didn’t have time to find himself, he had a wife and a baby daughter to support. A few months later he too was wearing a backpack and hiking through remote areas. Except that he wasn’t exactly hiking, he was marching, and the backpack was an Army green.

A much-older Jack was no longer so judgmental. He was trying to find himself now.

Jack took another paperback out of the courier bag. He started at the beginning.