Jack Bauer stood in the doorway of the small holding cell, staring at a ghost. Or, at least, what he had previously thought was a dead man. By all standards of logic and common sense, the man who sat before Jack at present should have been very much dead--as a doornail, as the saying went. The fact that he was indeed sitting there, a testament for his very eyes to behold, led Jack to question--at the very least--his current state of mind. The situation in its entirety defied the laws of reason. Bombs killed men. Or, at least, Jack thought they did. He wasn’t so sure now. But if there was one thing he could be certain of, it was that Hamri Al-Assad was looking fairly good for a dead man.

With a nod and a polite smile, the former terror leader acknowledged Jack’s presence.

“Good morning, Mr. Bauer. I’m glad you could make it on such short notice.” Great. Six A.M., and I’m already losing my damn mind. Jack gaped a moment, fumbling for something--anything--to say in response, and came up short. He shook his head, disbelieving, and after a moment, spoke his sentiments aloud.

“This is impossible.”

“Improbable, one might say,” Assad countered with a smile. Jack still stared at the man in front of him incredulously, wondering if his mind was just playing tricks on him, or if he’d lost it completely. He was leaning more toward the second at present. If the President knew I was seeing dead terrorists--former terrorists--Jack corrected himself--he’d ship me off to the loony bin. “Unfit for duty” would be an understatement. Still, if this were a dream, or some sort of odd hallucination, it was a fairly convincing one. The drive from his apartment to CTU had certainly seemed real enough, and he was confident of the fact that he was standing there in actuality at that moment in time. Still, if Assad were truly there…

Jack tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together in his mind. “Eight months ago,” he began cautiously, “there was an attempt on President Palmer’s life.”

“Yes, I’m aware,” replied Assad with a smirk. “I was there, after all.”

“I know. I’m just trying to figure this out.” He frowned, staring contemplatively at Assad. “A bomb exploded. The President was critically injured. Bill told me you had died in the blast.”

“I can assure you, Agent Bauer.” Assad rose from the small cot he was sitting on and closed the space between them easily with a few steps. “I am very much alive, as you can clearly see.” He offered a slight smile, and gestured toward the cot. “Do, come. Sit. You have questions, I am sure.” Jack sat, while Assad remained standing.

“Let’s start with the first one,” declared Jack. “How are you standing here?”

“It is complicated,” Assad replied thoughtfully. “To be perfectly honest, I am not quite certain myself. Allah was with me; he did not believe it to be my time.” At the dubious look on Jack’s face, he continued. “As for what happened…I was at the podium, preparing to give my speech to the nation, as you are aware. I chanced to look down, and when I did, I noticed a red liquid draining from a cell phone beneath the podium.”

“Some sort of explosive,” noted Jack aloud.

“Precisely. By the time I realized what was happening, it was far too late. I tried to warn President Palmer and leapt into the line of fire to shield him from the explosion. Unfortunately, he was hit nevertheless, and I received the brunt of the damage. I remember, I felt my spirit leave my body, I saw paradise and greeted the prophets themselves.” He paused, reflecting. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a government hospital. They told me I’d been in a coma for six weeks. That I was lucky to be alive. I sustained horrible burns to my back, internal injuries. I am completely deaf in my left ear, blind in my left eye.” He shrugged. “Here I am, eight months later. Nothing left but the rehabilitation, a couple more surgeries if necessary, and to somehow pick up the pieces of the life I have left and to try to fit them into something halfway normal.”

“So, what’s the deal?” asked Jack. “Are they releasing you?”

“Something like that,” Assad replied. “Since I’ve been given the Presidential pardon, and my name has been cleared in the assassination plot--I have your Tom Lenox to thank for that--I’ve told them I wish to leave the country. Go into hiding, and spend the rest of my days in seclusion where no one will find me.” Jack nodded, comprehending. “Anyway. You’re no doubt wondering why I’ve called you here.”

“Well, when Nadia called me at five in the morning, telling me there was a detainee at CTU asking for me specifically…” He shrugged. Assad smiled wryly.

“I apologize for that. I wasn’t sure how to get a hold of you, and time was somewhat of the essence…”

“Don’t worry about it,” replied Jack. “I just have one more question.”

“Which is?”

“Why me?” Jack looked questioningly up at Assad. “Of all the people in the world, why call me?”

“Because.” Assad was suddenly right in front of Jack, no big feat in the tiny room. Jack glanced down as Assad sat down next to him on the cot, feeling the mattress give way slightly as he did. When he glanced up, Assad was eyeing him intensely, amber eyes glinting with something Jack wasn’t quite sure he recognized. His voice was soft as he spoke, but amplified in the silence of the room. “I never got a chance to thank you properly for saving my life. And, for being the only one to have faith in me. It means a lot to me.”

When Assad’s hand slid over his, it was a moment that Jack found beyond all understanding. The hand caressing his seemed worlds away, but far too close to comprehend all the same. Jack suddenly found his pulse erratic, his throat as dry as the Sahara. He swallowed, hard.

“I was just--” Assad’s touch disarmed Jack completely. “Just doing my job.”

“It was a gracious act, given the circumstances.” He turned his hand so that his palm was against Assad’s, and laced his fingers with his.

Jack inhaled deeply, exhaling slowly. He forced himself to meet Assad’s gaze, inconceivably entranced by the hazel-gold eyes that stared back at him. Gazing into those eyes, Jack was reminded of the reasons he had saved Assad’s life so many months ago--too many reasons at the time to count, but there was one in particular that stood out in his mind at that moment. Assad was everything that he was and wasn’t--a constant contradiction of himself. He was the heat of the desert and the cool of the sea, fire and ice, a walking mystery wrapped in danger and intrigue. Perhaps, Jack thought, it was this mystery that had drawn him to Assad. There was no logical way to explain it.

“I’m afraid I haven’t been completely honest with you, here.” Assad arched a questioning eyebrow at Jack.

“I’m listening.”

“What I did back there--there are reasons for what I did, and why I did it. I can’t explain it, or put into words, I can only--” He paused, taking a deep breath. “I can only show you.” His hands dared themselves to the sides of Assad’s face, caressing tentatively. He saw Assad’s brow furrow ever-so-slightly, saw the unspoken question in his eyes. If this were to be his chance--his only chance--he would have to take it.

When Jack kissed him, he felt the last eight months of conflicted feelings and could-have-beens evaporate as Assad kissed him in return.

Na’am, habibi,” Assad murmured against his lips. “I understand.” He smiled warmly at Jack, pulling back only slightly to gaze at him.

“So, what do we do now?” questioned Jack. “Where do we go from here?”

Insha’ allah,” replied Assad, “wherever Fate will take us.” Jack bit his lip.

“When are you planning to leave the country?”

“As soon as possible. I’m set to be released at noon today,” Assad replied. “But, there’s a clause that goes with my discharge. For precautionary measures, I am to be released into the custody of an agent of CTU or other federal security agency.” Assad smiled wryly. “Hence, Mr. Bauer, the reason I contacted you.”

“Are you saying--”

“I’m yours, my dear,” replied Assad, matter-of-factly. “That is, of course, if you will take me?”

“I--” Jack could scarcely believe what he was hearing. “Yes. Of course.”

“Then, you will leave the country with me?” Assad’s eyes brightened. “Everything you have known here, the pain and the suffering--you can leave it all behind, Jack. Anything you want, I will give you.” He took Jack’s hand again, kissing his fingers lightly. “Say you’ll go away with me.”

“Yes. Anywhere you want to go.”

“Good.” Assad appeared satisfied. Happy, even, Jack thought. Jack realized that it had been a long time since he himself had been happy. He had all but forgotten what the emotion felt like. But as he slid his arms around Assad’s waist, pulling him closer, he found himself beginning to remember.

They stayed that way for what seemed like forever, Jack with his arms wrapped tightly around Assad, Assad with his head resting against Jack’s chest. Assad sighed gently, nuzzling Jack’s collarbone. “You should go,” he murmured into the front of Jack’s shirt. “You’ve but a few hours to prepare yourself to leave.”

“Forget it.” Jack half-smiled. “I’m not leaving your side again.” He remembered what had happened the last time he did.

“I suppose we should make ourselves comfortable, then.” Assad seemed contented with his answer. Jack leaned back on the cot, taking Assad with him.

There were still so many questions, Jack knew, and so few answers--a triviality, he decided. There was all the time in the world for them, perhaps even enough time for Jack to even begin to unravel the mystery that was Hamri Al-Assad.

As Jack’s fingers flitted reverently over Assad’s dark hair, he gazed with renewed admiration for this man that was his future--his present, his everything. It was amazing, he thought, how one could go from mourning the loss of a man he barely knew, to holding him in his arms and spending a future with him. At any rate, after one of the most difficult days of Jack Bauer’s life, both he and Assad were still standing. And neither planned on leaving the other’s side any time soon.

Maybe, Jack thought--just maybe--he was going to make it after all.