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Title: A Question of Trust
Fandom: 24
Characters: Jack Bauer, Renee Walker
Rating: PG
Summary: Renee lashes out when she's not sure who she can trust. Post-7x05 speculative.
Spoilers: Up to 7x05
Warnings: None
Challenges: Written for [livejournal.com profile] 10_hurt_comfort, prompt: "Nose Bleed"




Renee stood at the sink in the small bathroom scrubbing at her fingernails, desperately trying to get the last of the dirt out from underneath them. Every time she lifted her hand to push her hair out of her face or rub her forehead she could smell the dirt on her hands. The scent filled her nose, choking her as she remembered the feeling of the plastic over her face, the weight of the earth hitting her body, the sight of Bauer looming over her as he dumped one last shovelful over her face and she couldn't see--

She gripped the sides of the sink, trying to breathe through her nose, dispel the rising panic. The man who had picked her up as she'd clawed her way out--Bill Buchanan--said that he and the woman she'd briefly met--Chloe O'Brien--were working outside official channels, that Jack and Tony were working with them to bring down corruption inside the government.

That the man who'd been told to kill her but hadn't, and who'd buried her alive, was one of the good guys.

Emerson had mentioned a source on the FBI during his phone call to his superior, so Jack had been telling the truth about that; it was one of the very few things she was sure of. But then Jack had helped Emerson kidnap Matobo and his wife, had knocked her out and helped Almeida escape and worked with him, the man that had provided Emerson with the CIP device that could kill millions.

At that moment, she wasn't sure what to believe. She couldn't be sure that Buchanan was telling the truth, Jack had done all those things but when ordered to kill her he'd kept her alive, and she was cut off from the people she trusted. One of whom she couldn't trust at all, and without knowing who to trust at the FBI, they couldn't risk her going back as much for their safety as hers.

"Agent Walker?" The now-familiar voice came from the doorway, just a few feet behind her.

Don't fight it.
Shut up or I'll shut you up.
Trust me and I'll help keep you alive.


There was a footstep behind her as he stepped into the room, and even with no mirror behind the sink she knew he was right behind her.

Without really thinking, she spun on her heel, lashing out with her right fist. The knuckles of her first two fingers connected with Jack's nose, knocking him backward and sending blood spurting from his nose. It was as much a surprise to her as to him; she'd expected him to block it but instead there was blood running down his chin, covering his hand as he instinctively pressed it to his face.

For a moment she just stood there stunned, her hand throbbing, wondering if she'd just broken his nose. Somehow she didn't feel much remorse for it.

He grabbed a small towel, using it to pinch his nose tightly. "Good punch. Who taught you that?" he asked, his voice slightly muffled and nasal.

"My father. He wanted to make sure I could defend myself," she said, the question snapping her out of her daze. Crossing her arms over her chest she asked, "What do you want, Bauer?"

His blue-green eyes stared at her over the towel with a softness that might have melted her if she hadn't been so unable to trust that it was genuine. "I wanted to make sure you were all right and apologise."

"Apologise?" she said, uncrossing her arms, clenching her fists at her side. "You think you can just apologise for knocking me out, kidnapping me, letting me think you were going to kill me and for--for burying me alive?" she asked, her voice betraying her and shaking a little at the end. "Do you have any idea what it was like lying there with that plastic over my face as you and Almeida--"

Her hands were shaking, her breath coming in sharp gasps as the smell of the dirt filled her nostrils again, remembering the way her breath reflected off the plastic, the soil pressing in around her; she was suffocating, frozen in fear and trying not to scream--

As if from a distance she heard Bauer calling her name--her first name--but it wasn't until she felt the touch of his hand on her arm that the memory faded, the bathroom came back into sharp focus.

She pushed her hands against his chest, sending him stumbling backwards. "Don't touch me," she snapped. "Do you have any idea of what that was like?"

"Something like it, yes," he said, flatly. For a moment she was struck by the haunted look in his eyes before it disappeared, the reaction so sudden that she was inclined to believe it was real.

His file hadn't gone into detail about what he'd been through in China; she had a feeling it was probably because Bauer hadn't talked about any of the specifics. It hadn't been worth the staff time having someone prepare a brief for her on methods of torture that the Chinese employed from official sources, but she'd done a little research on the internet before she'd suggested they bring Bauer in. She'd wanted at least a little information on what he might have gone through and how that might affect his mental state, even four years later. At the moment, the story she'd read of prisoners being submerged in a cage in fetid water, trying desperately to keep their heads above water with their hands tied behind their back came to mind. Had they done something like that to him? Was that what had caused that expression to cross his face?

She swallowed, trying to draw on her anger again. She wasn't going to fall into the trap of trusting him again too soon. "Then you know why I punched you."

"Yeah, I do, and I wanted to say I'm sorry for scaring you. We had to get to Dubaku, and the only way to do that was to keep Emerson's trust. When he told Tony and I to bury you, I tried to remind him that we were on a tight schedule, that we didn't need to, but he wasn't having it," he said, appearing to be uncomfortable, remorseful. "If I'd refused he would have known something was up, probably gone and looked at you himself and he'd have known you were alive. I was trying to keep you from getting killed."

She knew that already, had understood as much as she'd been able to at the time that he was trying to save her life, even though she hadn't known why and the fear as she'd been buried had prevented her from trying to figure it out.

"Renee, listen. I don't expect you to forgive me, but right now we need to work together if we're going to prevent people from getting hurt. I need to know if you can do that," he said as he pulled the towel away from his nose, his voice soft and smooth as velvet.

Knowing what she did about him, she knew he had to be the best liar in the world. Looking into his eyes, it would be easy to believe everything he'd said, but she couldn't quite do it. After everything that had happened, she still couldn't be sure she'd met the real Jack Bauer, still couldn't be sure what to believe.

But then she didn't have a choice, either.

She nodded, stiffly. "I can do that. But I swear to you, Bauer, if you double-cross me and don't kill me, I'll shoot you myself."

Jack's mouth twisted, his expression a little wry. "Got it." He paused for a moment, not making a movement. As she watched, his eyes shifted down to her shoulder and he nodded toward it. "You're bleeding again."

Renee turned, pulling back the collar of her shirt and just barely seeing a fresh red spot appearing on the gauze pad over where his shot had grazed her. The wound must have opened again with the punch.

Jack dabbed his nose with his towel, evidently it had stopped bleeding, as he dropped it on the counter and grabbed a clean one as he stepped toward her. "Here," he said, folding the clean towel into a smaller bundle.

'Wait, I'll--"

"You can't see what you're doing. Let me." He placed the towel on top of the gauze, pressing down as he turned her toward the sink.

"Hold that," he said, taking her hand with his clean one before she could pull away and placing it on the towel. His touch on her wrist was gentle, a sharp constrast to when he'd pulled her out of the van just a couple hours earlier.

He washed his hands at the sink, then opened the first aid kit, pulling out another gauze pad. "Pull it up a little," he said, and as she lifted the towel, she could feel his fingers against her skin, pulling the adhesive off so he could see the wound.

"Looks like it only opened a little," he said, tearing the sterile wrapping and pulling off the old gauze pad before putting the new one on. Every movement was careful, gentle, carefully trying not to hurt her. It was yet another facet of him, one just at odds with everything else she'd seen as the apology.

"There. Just be careful how you move your arm," he said, crumpling the wrapping and tossing it in the garbage before closing the first aid kit.

She didn't speak for a moment, then said softly, "In your file, it said you were involved in the death of Regional Director Ryan Chappelle."

Jack stilled, and even though she was looking at him in profile she caught a look of pain that crossed his face.

"Yeah," he said, his voice rough.

"If you could kill him in the line of duty, why didn't you kill me? You wouldn't have had to take a risk at blowing your cover."

Jack didn't answer for a moment; just stood there, unmoving. "With Ryan there was no other option; we tried to get around it but we couldn't. The only other option was letting Saunders go through with his demands. Finally we ran out of time. Ryan ran out of time."

Renee had questioned a lot of people in her years at the FBI, and despite the contradictions of Bauer's actions that day, despite her knowledge of his experience being undercover, she wasn't sure someone could fake the guilt she heard in his voice. She'd seen people try to fake guilt to make themselves seem innocent: husbands who'd killed their wives trying to say they weren't home and sound like they were being eaten up at the thought that if they'd only been there when their loved one was attacked by some stranger they could have stopped it from happening. This didn't sound like manufactured guilt, even as much as she tried to doubt it.

"As long as there's any other option, I'll take it," Jack said after another moment of silence.

"Even if it means putting yourself in more danger?"

"As long as I'm breathing there's a chance I can get out of trouble. It's not worth sacrificing someone else."

Renee flipped through Jack's file in her mind, trying to remember if there was anything that might contradict that statement. Of course what he hadn't said was that if it came down to sacrificing thousands of lives or one life--maybe hers--he'd do what he had to.

But then if that happened, as much as she'd had it reinforced that she didn't want to die, she knew she wouldn't be able to sentence thousands of people to death to save herself, either.

Jack put the first aid kit aside and turned to go, but she put out a hand to stop him.

"Wait, your nose--" She grabbed another towel, running it under warm water for a moment before wringing it out and holding it out to him. She wasn't sure she wanted to deal with the questions that would come up if Jack emerged from the room with a bloody nose, regardless of how she felt about these people.

Jack quickly scrubbed at his face. "Is that it?"

She nodded. "You're sure it's all right?"

"If it wasn't, it wouldn't have stopped bleeding by now. Thanks." She just nodded, not sure what to say considering she'd been the one to bloody his nose in the first place.

He folded the towel and placed it in the sink, running cold water over it. The entire time, he didn't meet her eyes, his movements brisk, his tone professional, as though none of this had ever happened. "I'll let you get finished cleaning up. Chloe should almost have the trace on Emerson's boss's phone."

Renee turned back to the sink, gingerly touching her neck as he walked out. She probably should have known it ahead of time, but punching him hadn't settled her emotions or calmed any of the confused thoughts inside her head.

Standing in front of the sink, she had to be grateful there wasn't a mirror over it. She wasn't sure what she'd see if there was.
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