Title: Such A Long Time
Spoilers: Up to the finale of 24: LAD, and speculation of what might be coming out of the LAD Blu-Ray featurette.
Characters: Chloe O'Brian, Tony Almeida, Kim Bauer, Kate Morgan, Belcheck
Rating: PG-13 for language and a mention of self-harm
Summary: After she returns to the US, Chloe visits someone she once counted as a friend, for a very specific purpose.
Disclaimer: I don't own this show or these characters.
Author's Note: Thanks to mack_the_spoon for the beta. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
As she pulled up outside the prison, Chloe couldn't suppress a shiver as she looked up at the bleak, barbed-wire-topped concrete walls. She had been in a place like this, not too many years ago. She didn't have a life sentence, and she had never spent time in a supermax facility – the government didn't count an accessory to the escape of a federal fugitive quite as dangerous as a murderer – but still. There was a large part of her that didn't want to set foot in a place like this again for any reason.
But Chloe shook herself mentally and opened the car door. She had been given a presidential pardon. Jack had seen to it. More importantly, Jack was currently stuck in some horrible Russian prison having God knows what done to him, because of her. If this worked, it would mean they were one step closer to getting him out.
Thoughts of Jack, as usual, brought to mind the visit Chloe had made to Kim and her family a few weeks after London. Chloe bit her lip and willed herself not to lose focus. Just because Kim had burst into tears at the news Chloe had brought, good and bad (mostly bad), of her father didn't mean Chloe had to start crying every time she thought about it. It wasn't like the whole visit had been terrible, either. Although seeing Kim, Stephen, and Teri interacting with their new baby had been difficult for other reasons, too.
Sniffing and straightening her spine, Chloe walked in through the visitor's entrance of the federal prison and went through the metal detector. Thankfully the guards didn't show her any extra attention as she handed them her photo ID and signed the visitor log. She knew it was very likely that she wouldn't have been allowed to visit if she were still dressing and making herself up like she had when she was part of Open Cell. But it had been almost three months since all of that. The black dye in her hair had started to fade, and it was growing out longer, the way she used to like it. Her wardrobe had changed significantly since then, too.
She was through security. Soon – sooner than she was ready for it, actually – she was seated on the other side of the plexiglass barrier, waiting for visiting hour to officially start. She tried to breathe normally.
A door buzzer sounded. Inmates, each of them in leg shackles, began to enter the visiting area. Chloe forgot her resolve and held her breath until she saw him. There he was, just coming through the door though not looking at her quite yet. He had agreed to see her, she reminded herself. What that might mean about his mental state had yet to be seen.
Tony looked up and met her eyes at that moment. She saw recognition on his face (God, he looked older than she thought five years could have changed him) but not much else. She shifted in the chair, keeping her expression neutral as best she could. This was going to be weird, at best.
Her former friend and colleague sat down across from her, seeming to take in the sight of her but making no move to speak or pick up the phone. When Chloe hesitantly reached for the receiver on her side, Tony finally did the same. She noticed the scar on his hand, and winced when she realized where that must have come from. Her certainty of accomplishing the goal of this visit, which was already low, dropped even further.
“Hi,” she said, when Tony had put the phone to his ear.
After a pause, Tony cleared his throat. “Hi.”
Chloe tried to remember everything she was supposed to say. She, Kate, and Belcheck had discussed it in detail and gone over it several times, but this kind of thing was always harder in practice than in theory. At least she couldn't fail to be aware of Tony's untrustworthiness now, as she had been in the past, so he wouldn't manipulate her. “Uh, I know it's been a while,” she began, “and I don't know how much you've been keeping up with the news since … since you got here.”
At that, the faintest hint of what might be amusement appeared in Tony's eyes. It was the first emotion she had seen in him. “I've got internet access,” he said, “if that's what you're asking. I check the news pretty much every day.”
“Good. Then you probably read about what happened in London a few months ago – the drone strikes, the US almost going to war with China, President Heller stepping down, things like that.”
“Yeah, those stories were all headline news.” Now she thought he was at least a little bit curious.
“Well, um … I was there. In London. For most of it,” she said. “That wasn't in most news sources.”
Tony nodded slowly and thoughtfully, watching her in a way that was almost disconcerting. It reminded her of the way Jack used to watch a suspect in custody. “Open Cell,” he said after another pause. “You were with them?”
“I was.” She didn't need to justify herself to Tony, though the impulse to do so was there. “Jack was in London, too. He's the one who stopped the terrorists who had control of the drones, and averted war with China.”
“Doesn't surprise me, even if his name didn't exactly make the news, either.” If he was angry or bitter – or pleased, for that matter – at these mentions of his former friend and the man who had ensured he was sent back to prison for the rest of his life, Tony didn't show it. It was eerie how much he didn't show, in fact.
“Well, you probably don't know that Jack turned himself over to the Russians when it was all over, because they captured me,” Chloe blurted. “We-- I'm trying to find out where they're holding him, but I haven't had much success yet.”
Tony hadn't missed her pronoun slip-up, but he didn't comment on it. What he did say, after a heavy sigh, was, “Chloe, why are you here? You didn't come just to catch me up on all the behind-the-scenes news, did you?”
“Not exactly.” She took a deep breath. “I came to ask you a question: if you could, would you help Jack? Or do you still hate him for ruining your revenge scheme and putting you back in prison?”
He raised his eyebrows and laughed once. “Well. You haven't changed all that much, I guess.”
“Answer the question, Tony,” Chloe said, ignoring his sarcasm. “Please.”
Leaning forward, Tony gripped the receiver and said, “And what exactly is the point of this little exercise? Are you here to judge my mental health after five years served of a life sentence? Are you worried about me?” Now the bitterness was there. He sat back in his chair again. “Well, you don't need to worry anymore, Chloe. They've got doctors in here, and I've made some real progress. Almost four years since I've been on suicide watch, if you can believe it.”
At these blunt, harshly-spoken words, Chloe's stomach twisted. She took a sharp breath and swallowed. But what he said made a certain kind of horrible, awful sense. It wasn't like she hadn't had to deal with similar issues in the aftermath of the loss of her family. “I'm sorry, Tony,” she said quietly.
“Yeah. Sure,” he snapped.
“I-- I just mean, I know a little bit about what you must be feeling, what you have been feeling for a long time.” She looked down, swallowing again past the lump in her throat. “I lost Morris and Prescott two years ago.”
Tony was silent for long enough that Chloe looked up again. He didn't say anything, but the anger was gone from his expression.
“So anyway,” she persevered, her voice only cracking slightly, “I just wanted to know if you would ever change your mind about Jack.”
A guard broke in at that point to announce that the hour for visiting was half over. Tony glanced at the guard and then back at Chloe. “I still don't see the point of you coming here just for--” Then he stopped, eyes widening, and stared at her. “You said you wanted to know if I would ever consider helping Jack. Right?”
Chloe's heart started to beat faster. He saw what she was getting at. He had to. “That's right. Hypothetically. Because he used to be your friend, and he's in trouble.”
He let out his breath slowly, and shook his head. “Chloe.” Now he was looking at her in – what? Concern? Fear? “In that case, I don't know if I should answer.”
Frustrated, Chloe pressed, “Come on, Tony. Just tell me!”
But Tony just said, “I'm not sure you've considered the implications of what you're asking. If I've learned anything from this place, it's that you can't pretend there won't be consequences to your actions.” He regarded her steadily. “So what I'm saying is, I'm fine where I am, but thanks for asking. And I think I'll go back to my cell now.”
He sounded oddly sincere – and certain. Chloe frowned. This was not what she had been expecting at all. “Fine. But I'm coming back next week,” she told him.
Tony raised his eyebrows again. “All right,” he said with a shrug. “I could use another break from the daily grind.” He hung up the phone.
Jack's in trouble and we need your help! Don't you think we've considered the consequences already?! Chloe wanted to yell, but she knew that would be a bad idea for a lot of reasons. Instead she just glared at him and hung up. Without waiting to see him leave, she stalked out of the room, back through security, and out of the building.
As soon as she had gotten to her car (Belcheck had given her a fairly astonishing amount of money for reentry into life in America, insisting that it wasn't dirty money and that Jack had wanted her to have it), Chloe pulled out her phone. It rang once before Kate answered. “What did he say?”
“He said no – but not for the reasons we thought he might,” Chloe reported, with another frustrated sigh.
“What do you mean?”
“I don't think he still hates Jack,” she explained. “I mean, I don't think he really likes him all of a sudden, but that's not why he didn't go for it. I think he's...” She trailed off. It seemed absurd, now that she tried to put it into words.
“He's what, Chloe?” Kate prompted, none too patiently.
“I think he's concerned that we aren't really aware of what will happen to us if we get caught.” She frowned again, trying to ignore her own fears. If this plan got off the ground, but then later on things went wrong, her pardon would no longer be effective. And Tony obviously knew even better than she did what they could look forward to for the rest of their lives if it did go wrong.
Kate sighed. “Okay. Then we need to figure out a way to communicate to him that the risk to us is going to be minimal – and that if he's willing, he can make sure it's even less by his actions.”
This was the part of the plan Chloe liked the least. If they were all going to involve themselves in a plot to break a convicted murderer out of federal prison in order to help track down a man who had until very recently been labeled a traitor and a terrorist himself – and going on an illicit mission to a foreign country in order to do so – she didn't think it was fair that the two members of their group who had already served hard time would be set up to take the blame. Even if they were both willing. (Belcheck was; he was willing to do pretty much anything for Jack. But Tony? That still seemed unlikely.)
“How the hell am I supposed to communicate all that to Tony without coming right out with all the details?” Chloe asked. She was pacing around near her car when she noticed a security guard approaching. Shit. “Kate, hold on a second,” she said, before the other woman could reply. She took the phone away from her ear and hoped the fake smile she was directing at the guard didn't look too panicked. “Hi. Is there a problem?”
“Sorry, ma'am, but once visiting time is over for the day, we have to ask guests to leave the premises,” the man said. He looked more bored than suspicious or even annoyed.
“Oh.” Chloe took out her car keys and nodded. “Of course. Sorry.”
“No problem. Have a nice day.” The guard waited until she had gotten into the driver's seat and then turned to leave.
Chloe turned the key in the ignition before bringing the phone back to her ear. “You still there?”
“Yes. Everything okay?”
She explained what had just happened as she left the parking lot. “Anyway, what I asked you before still stands. I thought we were trying to avoid giving anyone else inside a chance to overhear our plans.”
“That's still true,” said Kate. “We've got a week to figure it out, though, right? Tony didn't refuse to see you next week?”
“No, he said I was at least a nice break in his boring routine,” Chloe said dryly.
Kate snorted. “Well, whatever works.”
“Okay, so are we done for now? Is there anything else I need to do today?”
“No, I don't think so,” said Kate. She paused, then added, “I'm glad this worked as well as it did, and I know it must have been weird for you.”
“You mean, the part where I went back inside a prison? Or the part where I went to talk to a guy who used to be my boss, and then was my friend, and then I thought he was dead, and then he came back and ended up killing a bunch of people?” Chloe changed lanes to get around a huge pickup truck that was driving ridiculously slow in the fast lane. “Because yes, both of those things were weird.”
Kate sighed. “Look, Chloe, if you don't want to do this again next week--”
“I didn't say that,” Chloe cut in irritably. “Of course I'll do it again next week. I'm not leaving Jack in whatever hellhole the Russians have him in just because this makes me uncomfortable. But you asked whether it was weird, so I told you.”
“Right,” said Kate. “Got it. I'll call you tomorrow and we can start brainstorming what to tell Tony, okay?”
“Copy that.” Chloe hung up and drove. She tried not to think about what else Jack would have to endure while they delayed their plans for another week.
At her apartment that night, Chloe was just settling down with her dinner in front of the news when her phone rang. It was Kim. Finishing a bite of her pasta, Chloe muted the TV and answered, “Hi, Kim. What's going on?”
“Hi. I need to ask you something,” the younger woman said. Her voice was serious.
“Okay. Go ahead,” said Chloe. She braced herself for the usual question, though this didn't sound exactly the same as it usually did.
“First of all, any progress on finding out where my dad is being held?”
There it was. “Nothing definite yet,” Chloe told her. “Your dad's friend is still running down a few leads. We expect to hear from him in the next couple of days.” Kim and Belcheck had never met face to face, and Chloe wasn't sure if that was going to change. Belcheck seemed to think it would be best if it didn't.
“Okay,” said Kim. She took a deep breath. “My second question is, are you and Kate planning something to rescue him?”
Chloe froze and shut her eyes for a moment. She should have expected this. Sometimes, Kim was too much like her father for her own good. “Kim...”
“Because if you are, I want to help.”
“Kim, even if we were, which I'm not saying we are, we can't talk about this over the phone,” said Chloe quickly. Her phone was as secure as she could make it, but she was betting Kim's wasn't. She was also betting the household of Jack Bauer's only living blood relatives was still interesting enough to certain people that there could be some form of surveillance in place even now.
Kim was silent for a few seconds. “Okay. Um, what about if I go out and use the gift my dad gave me while he was recovering in DC? Obviously it's old by now, but it still works.”
Chloe thought back. If she was referring to what Chloe thought she was referring to, then that was good thinking on her part. “Why don't you give it a try? I'll check into things on my end, too,” Chloe said, opening her laptop and locating one of the programs she still had that Open Cell had developed, to track surveillance. It would need a little bit of modification for this situation, but it should work.
“All right.” The call ended.
Five minutes later, Chloe got another call from a number she didn't recognize. When she answered it, Kim said, “Okay. I'm in my car, in the park near our house, and I'm using the phone my dad gave me that he said should be secure. Can we talk now?”
“Hold on just a second,” said Chloe. The program was just finishing a scan of her own neighborhood and Kim's as well. She frowned at the small indication she saw centered directly at Kim and Stephen's house and reminded herself to look into that more closely tomorrow. But if Kim was telling the truth about where she was right now, she was in the clear at the moment. “Okay. Remind me to talk to you about the thing the scan I just ran might have found at your house,” she said. “But we should be fine for now.”
“Thing you just found at my house?” Kim sounded disturbed and angry. “After all this time? I can't believe-- No, I guess I can.”
“We'll deal with it tomorrow,” Chloe said firmly. “Based on the readings, it might not even be anything currently active, either.”
“Yeah, all right.” Kim cleared her throat. “So after all of this, I'm guessing you and Kate are planning something to rescue my father, aren't you?”
“Yes,” admitted Chloe with a sigh. “But Kim, it's extremely risky, and we haven't even found out where he is yet – and if we do, it's highly likely we're going to have to break a lot of laws to get to him.”
“I get all of that,” said Kim quietly. “But I'm not going to sit back and do nothing, now that I know--” Her voice cracked, but she continued on, “Now that I know he's still out there, and that he came so close to being able to come home.”
A surge of grief and guilt made it difficult for Chloe to say anything for several seconds. If she hadn't gone and let herself be captured, Teri and little David would be getting to know their grandfather, and Kim would have her father back. She tried desperately to keep back the tears, but she had to gasp in a breath, and Kim must have heard.
“Chloe, I'm not blaming you for this,” she said. “And you shouldn't blame yourself. From what you told me, my dad saved your life and made it so you could come back home. That's who he is. He wanted to do this.”
“I know,” said Chloe, bringing herself back under control with difficulty. “But he shouldn't have had to. That's why I'm going to find out a way to get him back.” No matter what it takes.
“And I want to help,” reiterated Kim. “I need to.”
Chloe rubbed the tears off her face. “You know how your dad would react if you ended up being in danger because of this, don't you?”
It was Kim's turn to sigh. “Well, we'd better make sure he doesn't have to find out about it, then. And I wasn't planning to put myself in a lot of danger, anyway. I can't do that to Stephen and the kids.”
“All right.” Chloe took another deep breath. “In that case, I'll bring you in, and make sure you're kept in the loop. And we'll figure out the best way for you to help.” She paused, and then figured she might as well tell Kim at least part of their plan right now. “I guess you should know that we're also trying to see if Tony is willing to work with us in any way.”
There was almost a full half-minute of silence on the other end. Then she said, “Tony, as in Tony Almeida? But-- he's--”
“In prison serving a life sentence for multiple murders, among other crimes,” Chloe finished for her. “Yeah. I know, Kim. But he could be useful, if he decides to be.” As far as Chloe knew, Kim had never heard the specifics of what Tony had done to Jack on that day all those years ago; she was certain Jack himself would never have told her. So she hoped Kim wouldn't have additional reasons not to want Tony's hypothetical help.
“Well, all right, but I can't say I see him deciding to help,” said Kim finally. “Anyway, thank you for telling me about this, Chloe.”
Chloe smiled, just slightly. She was reminded then of how Kim had always been persistent until she got the information she wanted, even back during their early days at CTU. “I'll come by tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay.” The younger woman sniffed. “We're going to get him back, right?”
“We are.” She hung up, trying to focus on her feelings of resolve and determination rather than all the things that were still so up in the air. They were going to get him back.