All Roads
by Stellaluna

His name is Jack Bauer. His life has been a series of small moments.

It should have been raining the day of Teri's funeral: sheets of water pouring down from a lead-gray sky, umbrellas blossoming like black roses over his and the other mourners' heads, mud on his good shoes and everyone in a hurry for the ceremony to be over, to get inside where it's warm and dry. If this life of his were a movie, the weather would have cooperated and helped to set the mood.

But it never rains in Los Angeles, and he buried his wife under a ridiculous bright blue sky, not a cloud to be seen and a thin trickle of sweat running down the back of his neck, crisp white collar going wet and limp.

Sky blue Sunday, he thinks now. Where does he know that phrase from? A song or a poem, maybe, but he can remember no more of it. In the meantime, it's not Sunday but Wednesday. Sky blue Wednesday? True, but it doesn't have quite the same resonance.

Nearly two months since they put Teri into the ground, and hey, he's still a mess, isn't he? Jack Bauer, Jack fucking Bauer, what are you doing with your life? Maybe if he had Kim to worry about, something to focus on from day to day, he'd have his shit together. And he does worry about Kim, don't get him wrong, but he doesn't have the constant daily concern of is she okay? and how is she coping with all this?, because Kim has gone to stay with her grandparents up in Marin County. He calls her twice a week to check up on her. At first he called every day, but then they cut back.

She is healing in slow increments. He hears this in her voice, and in the voices of his parents when they talk about her.

He is not.

She argued when he told her she was going to them, screamed and slammed the door, and he heard her crying in her bedroom for hours, but he was unmoved. It was the best way, the only way, he told himself; and they were happy enough to have her visit.

Unmoved: he will never be moved again.

Of course, if it had been a movie - his thoughts move in circles now, back and back over the same territory, what if and if I only had the constant refrain - Teri never would have died. He would have made the eleventh-hour save; they would have cried and kissed each other and walked off hand in hand before the slow fade to black. The family reunited, order restored, and he the hero.

Instead, there is this. The too-silent house, the bottle of vodka bought and then drained within a day, the great vast emptiness on the other side of the bed. He prays now, not for absolution, but for numbness.

what if

if I only had

called earlier

been smarter

gotten there in time and then she

He has no room for regrets in his life, nor in his line of work, but regrets are all he has left.

How many people died because of you, Jack, Nina spitting the words into his face like nothing at all mattered any more, nothing except making Jack Bauer pay and pay and pay. He should have pulled the trigger, could have, he'd had her in his hands and the gun had been at her temple. He'd let them talk him down, instead.

If only he hadn't told Teri to trust Nina, to go with her.

He lashes out at himself: if only he hadn't fucked Nina in the first place, how's that? Perhaps one thing has nothing to do with the other, not directly, but they seem to him to all be parts of a greater whole. There is a continuum here, loops and whorls of trust and mistrust and betrayal, all created by him; and Mbius strip-like, they are all one, all lead back to the same place in the end.

He sets his glass down on the table and gets to his feet. Too fast, the room spins abruptly around him. When the dizziness passes, he walks to the window and pushes the curtains aside, squinting at the brightness. Sky blue, endless sky, and beyond it an infinite universe. A person could go crazy, trying to contemplate these things too closely.

He remembers Teri, big eyes laughing up at him when they met and, later, looking at him in triumph and love as Kim took her first wobbly steps across the living room. Later still, she looked at him with hurt and betrayal and ever after with wariness. When he heard her voice over the phone line the night of that long terrible day, telling him that they were going to have another baby, he had drawn a deep inward sigh of relief. This, finally, was the sign. This was the thing that would put paid to all the troubles they'd suffered (troubles he'd caused, he doesn't forget to remind himself). She had forgiven him. She still loved him. Everything was going to be all right. At that moment, Jack Bauer caught a glimpse of grace.

Grace fled, of course, as it always did. It never clung to him, not for long. A little fell away when he heard the false news about Kim, a little more when he stood on the dock and pumped bullet after bullet into Drazen's body. As he pulled the trigger of the gun again and again, knowing there were no bullets left and not caring, as if by sheer force of will he might be able to kill Drazen yet again, he knew that he had irrevocably crossed a line.

He had willingly shed the standards by which he'd conducted his entire career: one bullet to take a suspect down, to incapacitate him. Two if he's still coming at you. Not this, not this senseless, beautiful bloodlust. Had everything else not gone to shit the way it had, he suspects that this would have landed him in some serious trouble with his higher-ups at the CTU.

And the thing, the thing that lets him know he's every bad thing anyone ever thought about him, is this: he doesn't care. He'd do the same thing again, given the chance, only this time he'd make the motherfucker die slowly. There are ways to do that.

The spiraling-away of grace continued with his realization of the truth about Nina. Watching that secret tape in horror and disbelief, something kept itching at the back of his brain, something, some knowledge he couldn't quite grasp. Was it that he had known, had known all along in some dark chamber of his subconscious?

No. That, at least, he's been spared. He'd had no idea, on any level, and what baffles him to this day is that this was the case. Was she really that good an actress, or was he so blinded by their history together that he hadn't been able to see it? He honestly doesn't know the answer.

He pours himself another shot of vodka and drains it in a gulp. He's trying like hell, but it takes him longer to get drunk these days. A tight knot of pain settles into the pit of his stomach: too much booze, not enough solid food.

The moment, the true hell moment, came later. Not Teri, not finding her bleeding and blue and cold on the floor. That was something beyond even hell; that was the stuff of Lucifer's own nightmares. The instant of damnation came later still, during one of his countless reviews of the tape. Something had been bothering him all along about it, beyond the obvious, another of those little itches gnawing at the edges of his mind. Something familiar, something he'd seen in some other context, only he couldn't figure out what...and finally he paused the tape in the instant when Nina looked up at the camera. Then all the pieces fell into place.

He'd seen that expression on her face before.

The weekend they'd spent in Santa Barbara, back the previous January, had been like the end of a long slow fall. He and Teri were separated by then, and he had nothing to feel guilty about, nothing at all. No guilt about being here with Nina, or about kissing her, or about shoving his knee between her thighs, opening her legs to his searching hand as he slid his tongue over hers and maneuvered her backwards to the bed.

And sometime during that encounter, sometime in the middle of their first time during a weekend which in his recall is a blur of lips and tongues and hands, she looked up at him as he was grinding into her, slow and easy, and her eyes were not hazy with passion, but open wide. Knowing. And she smiled, just as slow and easy.

He was above her, looking down. Just about at the same angle as that overhead camera when she took care of Jamey Farrell.

He sat there staring at the screen for what might have been hours, he never knew, half-hard from the memory of touch even as his brain screamed no Christ no, I can't, make it stop, over and over again as if praying could make it so. Sat there and stared at Nina's frozen image, at her knowing eyes and triumphant little smile, dry-eyed and grief-stricken and, by now, as hard as he'd been when he was inside her all those months ago.

And so as it turned out he was still falling after all, falling and falling with no end in sight. This is a truth he now knows: some falls never do come to an end. Sometimes, once you start falling, the fall becomes all you know, all you will ever know. Land is gone; ground is gone; earth is sky and sky is down.

He lets his head sink into his hands. Red supernovas explode beneath his closed lids, and he sees his life entire: this is all there is now, and all there ever will be. It's his punishment, to know what he is, what he's let happen, and go on living even so. All roads are one, and they all lead here.

Life is a wheel, and you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place, and he's so tired of running. In his head, he hears the click of a gun's hammer, falling upon an empty barrel. The dock is empty and the water below him is cold and black. The chamber spins, the hammer falls. Click.

His name is Jack Bauer. His life has been a series of small moments. None of them mean anything.


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