The Right Man For The Job
by cha-cha mia

He couldn't believe he hadn't sensed something terribly wrong. He had sensed it, in a way, but with everything going on that day, he had assumed it was just that, everything that was going on that day. He'd always heard you can't assume. What was that old saying, assume makes an ass of u and me? Something like that. His brain wasn't processing things like it should. Too tired. Too fucked up. It wasn't important anyway, now. Nothing that used to be important was important, now.

She and their daughter had been kidnapped, held captive, and threatened with death. All these things he had known. When he was eventually filled in on what he thought was everything else she had been through, he'd been flabbergasted. And he thought he'd had a bad day.

Like him, his wife had had no sleep. Unlike him, she was fragile, or he had always thought of her so. It struck him now that thinking of her that way had been a great boost to his male ego. The realization was quite a blow. He had never considered himself an egotist, though he had always been confident in both his sexuality and his ability to accomplish whatever task was placed before him. He was ashamed to discover such a thing about himself.

The day before Teri was buried, Tony had filled him in on some things he would just as soon not have known. She had acquitted herself well. As long as they had been married, he had never known how strong she was. How much steel she had in her balls. He should have known. She had suffered through his work and neglect, always there, loving him and Kimberly, making his home life an oasis where he could escape the chaos of his professional life. At least it had been so early on, before she asked him to move out. He should have known, but he hadn't.

Of course, he was grateful to Tony for being there when he wasn't, and grudgingly so to that Phil guy, as well. He wasn't thrilled to learn of his existence and place in Teri's life. The two of them had deliberately decided not to discuss any relationships they might have had during their separation. In the 20/20 of hindsight, that had been a mistake. Just one of so many.

He had readily agreed, partly because he knew how badly he would have reacted to finding out his wife had been with another man. Yet, he would have expected her to understand him shacking up with Nina? What a fool he had been. In so many ways, he'd been a complete idiot. So many mistakes. And not just at home.

Jack Bauer, stickler for doing things by the book, no compromising, no looking the other way, had broken just about every rule ever written, starting with his tranqing of Mason. True, it had accomplished his goal, but Mason had been proven right. He had lived to regret a lot of things, and it hadn't taken even a single day to come to fruition.

Considering the circumstances, he still couldn't see where he'd had any other viable options that long ago day that seemed like yesterday. He'd been scared shitless for Teri and Kim, yet was obligated to Palmer's safety. He'd been over the proverbial barrel, caught between a rock and a hard place, with no way out but to do what the hated voice in his ear told him. Still, he'd kept Palmer alive. Then, he'd escaped federal custody and later broken a cop-killer out of jail. With the possible exceptions of Teddy and Nina, he'd been his own worst enemy.

Even after he and Palmer met, figured out their connection, and began to work together, he'd made mistakes. He made too many promises to too many people that he couldn't keep. Promises to Teri, to Kim, to Palmer, to Elizabeth Nash. Hell, even to himself. The only one he'd been able to make good on was to Palmer. (No, he'd kept his word to Drazen, too.) Once that would have been all important, but not this time. His sacrifices were too great.

He'd lost his one true, trusted friend and ally when he'd watched Walsh die. Mason was certainly no friend, but he had come through in the end, with a little shove from Palmer. Tony had turned out better than he'd thought, but they'd never be friends. Then there was Nina. Brother, had he ever been wrong about her. Not even considering the fact that they'd been lovers, he'd thought he knew her. Knew her... . He'd trusted her with everything. How could he have been so wrong? He had always considered himself an excellent judge of character. How many other things had he been wrong about?

He'd never know the answer to that question, but he did know how wrong he'd been in his reaction to Kimberly's revelation. He'd blown a major fuse. He couldn't blame her for walking out on him after the funeral. After he'd forced her to tell him what she was hiding. He'd thought it was something about that kid, Rick, but no, it had been ever so much worse. The worst thing he could imagine next to what else had happened that day. That Teri could have hidden the truth from him was excruciating. That she'd given herself to that pig to save their daughter still brought tears to his eyes these many months later. She had been so much stronger than he'd known. Now, they were both gone. He'd tried to comfort Kim, to apologize to her. She would have none of it. He didn't even know where she was, now. Hadn't seen or heard a word from her in months.

His integrity had always been important to him. It was gone. Lost because he had been forced to compromise. Forced to become someone he would have been charged with investigating, had it been anyone else. Because he'd bent too many rules, when he hadn't broken them outright. He'd gone too far trying to bend the outcome to his will. Too far with Cofell. With that alcoholic waitress, what was her name? Lauren wasn't it? Too far with Drazen, but oh, that had been sweet; pulling the trigger over and over, long after every bullet had been deposited in its target. The only part of that day that could remotely be called sweet... .

Then he remembered that female cop. Why couldn't he recall her name? She deserved to have her name recalled. She had agreed to help him, knowing nothing more than what his credentials said and the words he had used. He had always been good with words. She was brave, telling him not to drop his gun, knowing she could well die for it. Maybe if he had done something different, she would not be moldering in the so silent grave. Did she have a family, he wondered? But he'd had no choice. Her death was his fault as surely as if he had pulled the trigger himself.

When you came right down to it, so many deaths had been his responsibility. All of his men from Operation Nightfall. Walsh, and Baylor, though he hadn't known it at the time. All the guys in the security details involved in trying to keep his family safe, at least half a dozen good agents. Ellis. Desalvo. How many guards and other employees had died at the prison? The cops who died when Kim was re-taken. That daughter of Drazen's friend. He would never have hurt her, but because he threatened to, Drazen cold-bloodedly shot her in the forehead. Then he killed her distraught father. Teri and the unborn child he would never know. All the innocents, his fault. So much he had lost. So many things gone. Everything irrevocably changed.

He had craved the release of sex, but masturbation had proven woefully inadequate. He hadn't wanted anything that would even remotely remind him of making love. That, he would never know again. He wasn't sure he had ever really known what love was. He had taken it for granted for too long. Let too many things come before. He had been so lucky and hadn't realized it. Until that last day.

What he had been doing these past few months was punishing himself for everything, of that much he had no doubt. It was how much remained of his life that he doubted. Hell, he no longer had a life. Sitting here, he had finally figured out where he screwed up. He should never have married Teri. She would still be alive if not for him. Of course, that would mean no Kim, but that might have been better, too. She hated him. As much as she had once loved him, she now hated him. He would never see her again. Never know if she had children. He had always assumed he'd end up an old guy spoiling the grandkids. Yeah, right. Nothing beautiful or good would ever be his again.

He had forfeited it all. And he had done so long before this day. Before he got involved with Nina. Before he and Teri separated. Before CTU. Before he ever heard of Drazen. Whatever it was in him that had always made him the right man for the job, whatever the job happened to be, had been what made him the wrong man for everything else.

Once all the various government investigations were done and he had agreed to resign in exchange for being cleared of all allegations (After all, he was the hero. He'd saved the day. All the media reported it, so it had to be true.), he had tried to drown himself in booze. He had never been much of a drinker, and found he couldn't develop a taste for the stuff. Sleeping pills didn't help. No matter how many he took, he couldn't sleep, and when he did, images of Teri and Kim and Nina got all mingled together. He'd awaken, all wet and sticky, completely disgusted and humiliated. He didn't think Kim could possibly hate him one iota more than he hated himself.

He didn't remember what had prompted him to seek out the first prostitute. He had never had to pay for sex. Girls, and later women, had always been more than willing to submit to his charms. Maybe that had been part of his problem. Like Hubbell in The Way We Were, "everything came too easily to him." He didn't know why that movie, and line, came to mind. He had never liked the movie, though it had been one of Teri's favorites. She and Kim used to sit up and bawl like babies watching it. He had teased them unmercifully about it. Comparing himself to Hubbell Gardiner should have made him laugh. It didn't.

For weeks, every night, he had gone into the seediest part of the city, picking up the oldest, dirtiest looking whore he could find. He didn't want to make love, he didn't want to connect, he didn't even particularly want to fuck. What he wanted was his pain gone. He wanted it all sucked out, and if it went through his cock, that was even better.

A month or so ago, when the first woman died, it had been an accident. A horrible accident. Special Forces training, he suspected, had somehow kicked in while he was under the influence of God knows what. Had he thought she was Nina in some disturbed part of his mind? (This did almost make him laugh. He wondered what part of his mind wasn't disturbed?) He had dreamed of killing her, true enough, but... .

The other hadn't been. She had pissed him off. He didn't recall how or why. He snapped her neck without a second thought. He hadn't intended any of this to happen, but it had. And it was all his fault. He couldn't blame Nina, or Kim, or the people at CTU, or the Government, or aliens. He deserved everything that had happened to him, but these women, as sleazy as they were, didn't deserve to be dead.

As he sat in his bedroom, several-days-worn clothes scattered around, dirty dishes and half emptied tumblers on the nightstand, the bed unmade for he didn't know how long, he debated whether to leave a note. He decided against it. No need to embarrass his daughter any more than necessary. Even if the murders were never attributed to him, and he didn't think they would be (He knew nothing if not how to kill without leaving any calling cards.), he had plenty of reasons to eat his gun. Hell, he had no reason not to.

He didn't remember the last time he had left the house. He hadn't eaten in days, and it might have been a week since he had slept more than even a few hours. The last time he tried, he woke sobbing. Nightmares of death or horrid eroticism haunted him, so he stopped trying. He had no friends. His family was gone. He cared for no one, and no one cared for him. The phone never rang; even the telemarketers hadn't called in days. The doorbell never interrupted his endless self-loathing. There was unopened mail piled just inside the front door. This was not living. Even the anticipation of vengeance had somehow lost its appeal. He should have killed her that night in the parking garage.

Looking across the room into the grimed mirror, the reflection staring back at him was totally unrecognizable as the man he used to be. The hair was a long, stringy, knotted, used-to-be-blonde mess. How long had it been since face met razor? He had never been a large man, but now, he was down right thin, ribs standing out plainly beneath drawn skin. The man before him in the mirror could almost have passed for a Holocaust survivor, his nakedness revolting even to himself. The lines snaking from around his eyes looked like ravines deeply carved into an arid landscape. And his mouth felt like a desert. Running his tongue along his teeth was an experience. He picked up a glass, opaque with slime and fingerprints, rinsed his mouth with something tepid and brown, then spat into an overflowing trashcan. Good enough, he thought.

The only clean, shiny thing in the room, maybe in the whole house, was the gun. (No, again he was wrong. The ring he wore still flashed gold on his finger. He removed it, placing it on the pillow that used to cradled Teri's head.) He looked down at it, ebony against the chalky-whiteness of his thigh. He didn't remember taking it from the closet, unholstering it, or cleaning it. He knew he had to have done so, for the oil, rod, and used bits of cloth were still strewn across the floor at his bare feet.

He picked up the gun. It felt comfortable and comforting, heavy in his hand. He extracted the clip. Two bullets. Fine. He would only need one. He opened his mouth, then closed it. He swallowed, throat clicking dryly. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was as calm as he had ever been. And he didn't think he had ever been so tired. He slammed the clip back up into the grip of the 9mm., chambering a round. The noise deafening in the dull quiet of this room where he had known so much love.

"Teri," he whispered, "I'm so sorry. Oh God, Kim. I wish... ."

He shook his head and wiped at his cheek with the barrel of the gun. He felt the familiar tingle in his forefinger. That always happened when he knew he was about to pull the trigger. He slipped the end of the muzzle into his mouth. He closed his eyes, caressing it with his tongue. Though the gun oil was suffocating, he still recognized the salty taste of his tear there, too. He squeezed the trigger slowly.

He wondered briefly if he would hear the explosion before his brains landed on the wall behind him. He didn't think so. Then the phone rang. And rang.


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