Fading Into Obscurity
by Charlotte Unsworth

It wasn't his first mission. It wasn't even the first mission that ended badly, but it haunts him. The photographs of the men who died are locked in his drawer, worn at the edges where he holds them with reverence and drinks to their memories. At least, that's what he used to call it. Now he simply drinks, because it's easier that way.

His wife doesn't know him any more. She could never understand the things he's done, the choices he's had to make, and if he's honest with himself that's one of the reasons he still loves her. If there was a possibility she understood, he would despise her as he despises himself.  Jack craved her approval, once, tried to make himself a better person to be the man she deserves but he can't anymore. The men he chose are dead and there's no reason he can think of that he's alive.

He doesn't sleep, slipping instead out of bed in the early hours and down to the study where their pictures lie. He thinks of the families they left behind while his own sleep above him. The warmth of his wife's body beside him used to be a comfort.. He woke from seeing that explosion and hearing Matthew die, blood in his throat as he clung to Jack's hand in terror, and his wife beside him reminded him of where he was. That he was alive.

It's not a blessing he feels anymore. He started to resent them both, Teri's room covered in fabric samples and design books and Kim's preoccupation with boyfriends and learning to drive impossibly trivial in the face of his nightmares.

But he can't talk about it. He's not allowed and even if he were he could never stand to see the look on his wife's face when she finds out he took six young men from their homes and lead them to die. When he tells her that he pulled his hand away from Matthew and left him to die in a foreign country. Jack didn't even try to take him to the meeting point. It would have been no use; Matthew was dead as soon as the bullet hit him and in his logical moments Jack knows it. What he can't live with is that he didn't try, didn't drag him every inch of the way or stay and comfort him as he died, remembering his own wife who'd left him two months before he signed on for this mission in a mixture of bravado and grief. Jack didn't try.

It's that which haunts him, making him even more determined to separate his work from his personal life, but he can't get it quite right. No matter what he does, he feels himself slipping away. He pictures conversations with his wife he knows he'll never manage to have, and he can't live like this anymore. It all comes back to Bosnia and he can't help himself.

Teri found the pictures and demanded to know what they meant. She's an intelligent woman and she knows her husband, knows how Jack thinks and how he blames himself when things go wrong. But he's a different person and she's not sure she can love him any longer, like this. She doesn't mean it when she asks him to leave. Maybe, just maybe it's a way to find some feeling left in him for the two of them. Something to prove that Jack Bauer is still her husband and still their daughter's father, and still remembers what it was like to want her. But it's been nearly two years of trying to get through to him and it isn't enough.

He walks out, leaving a cell phone number on the table and a message on the office phone. He disappears, because it's easier that way, in a haze of alcohol and the cigarettes he gave up years ago, lying on an anonymous bed waiting for something to make him feel alive again.


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