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BACK CHANNELS

Posted in 24_fanfic

Title: Back Channels
Author: marinw
Rating: PG
Characters: Chloe/Audrey/Bill
Summary: Set between Day 5 and Day 6. Audrey enlists Chloe’s help in her quest to rescue Jack.
Disclaimer: The alternate universe of 24 and all the imaginary people contained therein are the property of the Fox Production Company.
A/N: A big shout-out to wordsthatfail for the musical inspiration. I haven’t written any Chloe until now because I wasn’t sure I could do her justice. Please let me know if I’ve mangled her technobabble. I also don’t consider myself to be a Jack/Audrey shipper, but I am fascinated by the Greek Tragedy that is their relationship.



Sometimes Chloe wished he was dead.

If she knew Jack was dead then she could mourn him properly and move on. As painful as that would be, it would have been so much easier than…this.

It was Audrey who deduced that it was the Chinese who had him. The question was where. China was a very big place.

For the first few months after his disappearance, Chloe could draw some comfort by reminding herself that Jack was a master escape artist. He could teach Harry Houdini a few things. She kept telling herself that Jack was smart, resourceful, and, when necessary, shockingly violent. If anyone could escape from the notorious Chinese prisons or labor camps, it was Jack. Perhaps he had already escaped and the Chinese government was too embarrassed to admit it. Perhaps Jack was, even now, planning his return to the US or was deeply enmeshed in something very, very important.

But there was a major flaw with this theory: If Jack had escaped then he would have contacted her by now. He would contact her because he needed something. He would need Chloe to fabricate some official documents or transfer money to his numbered bank account or hack into a mainframe or re-position a satellite. Something. They had established protocols for contacting each other: When he was ready, Jack would send Chloe a text message or e-mail, which Chloe would recognize from the cryptic subject line and one of a dozen user names. If she closed her eyes, Chloe could almost see the 10-point verdana:

I’m fine. Need to go dark. No time to explain. J.

Chloe would have considered such a message more poetic than the greatest sonnet. But no matter how often she checked her cell phone or in-box, the message never arrived.

Still, this vein of wishful thinking was better than contemplating the grimmer, more likely scenario: That there were some places from which even Jack couldn’t escape. That he had become so weakened or abused or traumatized that escape was no longer possible. That he was…

Don’t. go. there.

Chloe snapped out of her reverie at the sound of shouting. She looked up from her monitor towards Bill Buchanan’s office, where Bill and Audrey were having an argument. They were becoming an almost daily occurrence. A few of the CTU analysts and the security guards (didn’t anybody except her see the cruel humor of dressing them in red shirts?) looked up, shrugged, and went back to whatever it was they were doing.

Chloe could hear the shouting but not the words. No matter. Chloe turned back to her monitor and ran one of her surveillance subroutine. She turned on the hidden microphone in Bill’s office. She was able to hear everything perfectly, and she listened on her headset while pretending to study the data on her monitor. She felt guilty for eavesdropping, but she couldn’t help herself. It’s their own fault for not including me in their conversation, Chloe rationalized.

“…Audrey, we’ve been over this a dozen times. I can’t just authorize a black-ops extraction,” Bill said.

“Why not?” Demanded Audrey. “I’ve studied Curtis’s scenario. It’s flawless.”

“That’s not the point and you know it. We’re not even sure where he is. And even if we did, they could be moving him a lot.”

“We can find all that out. We have our informant. We have Hong.”

“Hong’s position is precarious. If he’s compromised we’ll lose our best lead.”

“That hasn’t happened. Dammit, Bill, do you have any idea what those prisons are like?”

“I do, Audrey, I do.” Bill had lowered his voice to gentle and sympathetic tone. “I know how difficult this situation must be for you. It’s hard for all of us. We’re doing everything we can. So is your father. But you have to be patient and accept…”

“Do not patronize me!” Audrey’s voice had grown low and angry. “When my father and I were kidnapped Jack did not stop until we were both safe.”

“That situation was entirely different. Jack knew the risks when he raided the consulate. He knew that being captured was always a possibility. The Chinese have every legal right to detain him.”

“That doesn’t mean we can just abandon him. If it were you, or me, or anyone else, Jack would come for us. He would do whatever it took. Now it's our turn to rescue him. I cannot believe that you're willing to wait for permission that will never come. We have to act now. While your sitting around with your thumb up your ass, Jack is…”

“Audrey, that’s enough!” Bill yelled. “I’ve tolerated your outbursts because I know how upset you’ve been. But you’re allowing your emotions to cloud your judgment. Take a few days off. Clear your head.”

“I’ll do more than take a few days off. I resign.”

Chloe could hear the click of Audrey’s shoes as she exited Bill’s office. Chloe quickly shut off the microphone and deleted the audio file. She then resequenced all of that day’s files so that the gap wouldn’t be noticed. All this took only a few seconds. Then she checked her e-mail for the thirtieth time that day. Just like a teenager camped out by the phone. I am so pathetic.

She looked up from her monitor. She was startled to find Audrey staring right at her, her narrow face bearing an expression Chloe couldn’t interpret. Chloe felt her own face assume its default scowl.

“What!?” Chloe demanded.

“Nothing,” Audrey replied. She turned and got off the floor as quickly as possible.

Why can’t I find a job that doesn’t require dealing with people? Chloe wondered.

••••••••

Chloe wasn’t concentrating on the TV program she was obstensively watching. She wondered why even the best shows always seemed to deteriorate once they reached their sixth season.

Strange, how she spent most of her life staring at screens.

The doorbell rang. Who could be dropping by at this time of night? Morris, perhaps.

Chloe put aside her bowl of popcorn and reached for the intercom. “Who’s this?”

“Chloe, It’s Audrey Raines. We need to talk.”

••••••••


Chloe poured Audrey a cup of chamomile tea. She felt profoundly awkward.

“I’m going to China,” Audrey announced suddenly.

China? “Does Mr. Buchanan know?”

“No. Not yet.”

“What about your father? Er, I mean Secretary Heller, um, I mean Mr. Heller.”

“Dad spent the whole afternoon trying to talk me out if it. He keeps telling me that he’s doing everything he can. But the situation is….complicated. The President is still mopping up the whole Logan scandal, and he can’t afford to create a diplomatic incident. Dad says it's going to take time. I don’t think Jack has that much time.”

“If any one can survive the situation, Jack can,” Chloe said. She was parroting the standard mantra that everyone at CTU repeated whenever the subject of Jack was broached.

“Chloe, I am so sick of people telling me that.”

“I thought it would make you feel better.”

“Well, it doesn’t.”

“So why are you going to China?”

“I hate to admit it, but Bill is probably right about the futility of a black-ops extraction. Even if we did get Jack out, he would just have to go back into hiding. But there are diplomatic back channels. There are people at various levels of the Chinese government with whom I can negotiate Jack’s release…quietly. But that sort of negotiation can’t be done remotely. I have to go over there myself. I do know some Chinese, and there are translators I can trust.”

Chloe was impressed. I haven’t given Audrey nearly enough credit. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I want you to come with me.”

Chloe almost snorted out her tea. “Why?!”

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’ve thought about this carefully. You protected Jack the whole time he was on the run. You didn’t even tell Kim that he was still alive. You didn’t even tell me.”

“You must still be mad at me for that.”

“I was. But I understand it now. I respect it. Chloe, look, I know that you and I aren’t exactly…pals, but it’s obvious that you care about Jack.”

“We’re just friends!” Chloe blurted a little too quickly and a little too defensively.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to explain yourself to me. You care about Jack, you’re extremely good at what you do, and I know you want to help. To negotiate successfully, I’m going to need…information. Sensitive information. You can get that for me.”

“I don’t know…”

“We both want the same thing. Jack trusts you, so I know that I can trust you too. The usual channels are far too slow. It’s up to us girls. What do you say?”

“When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow.”

Chloe’s mind turned somersaults along with her stomach. Audrey’s mission sounded dangerous. She thought about the few times she had been out in the field: She time she had shot Marwan’s men, the time she had shot David Palmer’s assassin. She hated shooting people. She didn’t have what it took to be a field agent. She always wanted to return to the relative safety of CTU. She knew the contents of every single CTU hard drive, every security subroutine, the encryption keys to every network, the position of every satellite. The keyboard is mightier than the gun. There was only so much she could do with a laptop and creepy foreign internet café’s with their questionable Wi-Fi.

“I’ll be more use to you here,” she answered. It wasn’t just her cowardice. It was the truth. “I know what kind of intel you need. And I know how to get it without anyone knowing.”

“Thank you.”

“You can thank me by bringing Jack home.” Chloe retrived her laptop and opened the browser. “We’re going to have to establish some protocols for contacting each other.”

“I knew you were going to say that.”

“Remember to bring a lot of flash drives because you’re going to have to delete my messages and the attachments as soon as you receive them. The Chinese internet is kept under pretty close survelliance, but they can’t monitor everything all the time because it’s too big. They do suvelliance sweeps at fairly regular intervals. If you send me a message through certain sub-servers at certain times, it should get through undetected…”

••••••••

And so Chloe began to receive messages from China after all. Messages with deceptively simple subject lines and bland user names. Audrey was always in danger, and she always needed something from Chloe. She had become the Jack Bauer of backdoor diplomacy.

Hong is dead. They found his body in the woods with one gunshot wound to the head. Someone must have compromised him. This means I need a new informant. Send a list of candidates.

They had to replace Edgar. So they hired a guy named Milo. Chloe tolerated his presence.

I need to pay off some officials. Transfer 20K to my numbered account.

Curtis eventually stopped harassing Bill with his increasingly elaborate and fanciful extraction scenarios.

I thought Washington was bad. Chinese bureaucracy is far worse. I need a breakdown of the people in the black ops branch of the Beijing Secret Service.

CTU needed more people. So Chloe recommended Morris. It was awkward at first, but they soon became comfortable with each other again. It was good to have someone to talk to. But Chloe still kept most of her secrets.

The black ops people showed me an interrogation tape they got from an anonymous source. God, it was horrible. He’s changed so much. You wouldn’t recognize him. But I did see a number stamped on a door. Looks like an address. Cross-reference and get back to me.

Bill married Karen Hayes. Chloe went to the wedding with Morris. She colored her hair brown for the occasion.

I’m finally making some progress with the officials. Need another 30K.

Wayne Palmer was elected president. He was better than the alternative.

I think I know where he is! I need a list of abandoned military bases for a two-hundred kilometer radius outside of Beijing.

Bill hired Nadia Yassir to be his executive. She seemed competent enough, and having a Muslim on staff could prove useful.

I’m getting close. I can feel it. I’m going to negotiate with Cheng Zhi directly. I need something big. Send me the blueprints of the sub-circuit board for those Russian nukes. I know it’s a tall order. But I need to pique Cheng’s interest. Wish me luck. We’ll both be home soon.

That was the last e-mail that Chloe received.

A few weeks later, she came across an article through the Shanghai news service. Audrey Raines was dead. She was killed in a car accident. Officially, anyway.

James Heller didn’t want a big funeral, only a small private ceremony. Chloe wasn’t invited. The police and autopsy reports and the photos were sent to CTU, where they were quietly filed away. By now everyone had reasoned out why Audrey had gone to China. But no one dared speak the name of Jack Bauer aloud.

••••••••

The morning light made its way through the blinds. Chloe turned to her head to see the back of Morris’s smooth skull and his broad, well-muscled back. She tried to remember if she had taken her birth-control pill.

The dream had been disturbing. Chloe’s therapist had suggested that she keep a journal and write down whatever it was that was bothering her. But the act of sitting at her laptop, of putting fingers to keyboard and words to screen, would have made her feel ridiculous. So she closed her eyes and composed the message in the privacy of her own thoughts:

Goodbye, Jack. I protected you for as long as I could. I still want to help you but I don’t know how anymore. You’ve become a ghost, a fantasy. More of an idea than an actual person. Sometimes I wonder if you even existed.

Chloe opened her eyes and looked at the bedside clock. Time to wake Morris up. Time to go to work.

She closed her eyes again, just for a moment. In her mind she saw the photo of Audrey’s mangled body.

She was finally ready to let go.

Almost.

END

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