Summary: The gun shakes in his hand. He’s fired one before, but never in a situation like this. He never would have guessed he would ever be in a situation like this. He wouldn’t even know how to describe a situation like this.
Disclaimer: I do not own Lost. At all. I wish but alas...
Author's Note: For mysticxf, who I would hug like crazy were she here right now. *loves* I've referred to this, in my head, as my Jate Epic. I've been wanting to write to for, quite literally, months, and last night, it finally let itself be started.
Gunfire. It’s the only thing he’s readily aware of at the moment. He feels like it’s surrounding him, and in all likelihood, it is. He can’t remember when it had started, when it had brought the ringing in his ears along with it, but he supposed it didn’t matter. He can hear voices off in the distance. Whether they belong to them or his people, he doesn’t know, but he isn’t going to alert anyone to his presence until he’s absolutely sure they’re friend, not foe.
The gun shakes in his hand. He’s fired one before, but never in a situation like this. He never would have guessed he would ever be in a situation like this. He wouldn’t even know how to describe a situation like this.
He moves a few inches to his left, as carefully as possible, eyes locked on the line of the trees and on the shadowy movements there-in. He feels like he’s running out of air, the heat around him so intense he would think the jungle was on fire if it wasn’t readily apparent that it wasn’t.
Breathing the humid air deeply, he tries to collect himself. All the breath he had accumulated goes straight out of him when he feels a hand on his shoulder. It takes all of the energy in his body not to yell, but he does turn around as quickly as possible, knocking himself and whoever just touched him on their asses.
“Jesus, doc,” Sawyer swears at him.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” Jack replies, whispering as sternly as he possibly can. Sawyer just rolls his eyes, as usual.
“You’re the one that wandered off all by yourself, jackass,” Sawyer throws back at him, just as testily. “You tryin’ to get yourself killed, or what?”
“I didn’t wander off,” Jack defends. “You all wandered off.”
“Newsflash doc, when one guy goes off in one direction and a whole group of people go off in another direction, the asshole who’s alone? Is the one that wandered off.”
“Fine, I don’t care,” Jack gives up. “We don’t have time for this. Where is everybody?”
“ ‘Bout a half a mile that way,” Sawyer says, pointing in the direction he had come from. “Couple of us went out lookin’ for you.”
“You and who?” Jack asks, even though he doesn’t know how it matters. A loud gunshot echoes over their heads and they both hit the dirt on instinct.
Boots. A couple of pairs, and they’re getting closer.
Jack and Sawyer try to remain as silent as possible, their bodies pressed down against the dirt as far as they’ll go. Jack grabs the end of Sawyer’s sleeve, gesturing to some large bushes. They crawl along the ground, and cover themselves as best they can. As the footsteps grow closer, they seem to break into a run. Jack hears them stop somewhere by his head. He looks down at Sawyer, who’s body lays down by his legs. It’s the closest he’s ever seen Sawyer to real fear.
“Damn it!” The voice echoes loudly through the trees. He doesn’t sound that much older than a teenager.
“Will you shut the fuck up?” A louder, angrier voice admonishes. It sounds to Jack as though the angrier man hit the other man with something, probably the butt of his gun.
“I could’ve sworn I heard voices,” the other guy defends. Jack sees Sawyer roll his eyes, probably thinking that kid deserved that blow. Jack can’t say he doesn’t agree.
“Then you’re goin’ nuts, ‘cause there’s nobody here.”
“Shut up! You’re on thin ice already, kid, without draggin’ me around on a wild goose chase all day, you know that?”
“Yeah, alright, I screwed up.”
“Damn right you did.”
The older man is still grumbling, in a very pissed off manner, as they leave. Jack looks down at Sawyer, who shakes his head. Jack nods back. They wait another ten minutes, until long after the voices have faded away, before they slide from the cover of the bushes and wipe the dirt and leaves from their clothes and skin.
“God that was close,” Jack says, not daring to speak above a whisper. Jack hadn’t noticed that the gunfire had died down. All he had heard until now was the beating of his own heart thundering in his ears.
“Yeah,” Sawyer agrees, picking a dried leaf out of his hair.
“Can we get out of here?” Jack asks, looking around as though he is sure that, any minute, someone is going to jump out of the bushes and hold a gun on him.
“I wish, doc,” he replies. “But Kate’ll be out lookin’ for you all day if we don’t find her.”
Jack breathes in deeply, Sawyer now having answered his earlier question, but, of course, in his own way. Kate was somewhere out there, searching the jungle for him. He hadn’t expected that, and he didn’t understand why she would. But he didn’t doubt that Sawyer was right, that she would search the jungle until she found him, and that that stubborn determination would eventually get her caught.
“Which way did she go?” Jack demands.
The rocking of the ship made him nauseous. The minute he stepped on it, he felt like running for the bathroom. It became tolerable after a while though, after he was as used to it as he was going to get. Sleeping had been a trick, though. He believed, when he woke and found himself just as nauseous as ever, that he hadn't so much slept as collapsed in sheer exhaustion.
There was a loud pounding on the door and Jack groaned out loud. The pounding echoed in his head, even as he answered, “Who is it?”
“Dude, it’s me, Hurley,” an answer came. He sounded as exuberant as ever. Jack pushed aside his annoyance as he climbed to his feet and opened the door. The light that flowed through the hallway attacked his eyes and he squinted.
“Wow, dude, you look sick,” Hurley said. He was wearing the loudest Hawaiian shirt that Jack had ever seen and, as usual, a wide smile. Jack couldn’t help but smile back, even though his heart wasn’t in it.
“I’m fine, Hurley,” he replied.
“Yeah, sure, man, whatever you say,” Hurley shakes his head, disbelievingly. “Anyway, Sun sent me down. The boat’s docking soon, so you might wanna grab your stuff, or something.”
Jack wished he could share Hurley’s enthusiasm, but his head was pounding and his stomach was tied in knots, so he knew that the most he could manage, at this point, was a half-sincere smile and a stiff nod.
It would get better once his feet where on solid ground. Concrete, not sand. Surrounded by buildings, not trees, not tents, not ocean. Just solid steel. It would get better, he told himself.
“Yeah, thanks,” Jack said with a nod, eagerly grabbing his small duffle bag off of the chair by the door and joining Hurley in the hall. He shut the door, blocking out the small space that was more a cave than a room as quickly as he could.
“That’s it, dude?” Hurley commented, looking down at Jack’s one little bag. Jack’s eyes followed his and he shrugged.
“Pretty much,” he said. Hurley shrugged back at him, a gesture that wreaked of, ‘To each his own’ and started to ascend the stairs that lead up to the deck. Jack followed slowly, almost reluctantly behind. As bad as it was down here, the deck was worse. There, he could actually see the ocean churning, beating against the side of the boat. He hoped that Hurley was right, that they were very close to the dock.
Hurley breathed deeply as soon as he was standing on the deck and let out a very content sigh. Jack smiled at his back, marveling at him a bit. After all that he had been through, both on and off the island, Hurley was still the same guy. Jack had seen things from Hurley in the later days on the island that he would have never expected to see from him, that he didn’t know he was capable of until he had actually seen them with his own eyes. He wondered how Hurley could bounce back so quickly, what his secret was, how he held onto so much of himself when Jack had felt piece by piece of who he thought he was slip away, little by little, day after day.
Maybe he would ask him one day. But probably not.
“We’re almost home,” Hurley said, wistfully. Jack smiles, genuinely, unable to help himself. They’re close to the coast. He hadn’t asked what coast, but he assumed it was Tahiti. All he had to do was find the stomach to get on a plane and he would be back in LA before he knew it. He could only think of once place in the world that he wanted to be any less.
There was definitely a comfort to it, though, knowing that soon he would be on solid ground again. It had been so long since he’d felt like he was, since before the island even. His father’s death, seeing his body, left him feeling like was sinking slowly in quicksand long before he ever set foot on the island’s surface. The balance would be nice. Being back in control of his own life would be nice.
His eyes began to scan the crowd against his will. He didn’t think he was going to see most of these people again. It wouldn’t have surprised him, or really disappointed him. Everyone seemed to be hanging out in clusters, families. The children who had been born on the island were with their parents, not playing with each other. They were all trying to make a clean break, to put distance between themselves and the people around them. Jack couldn’t say he blamed them. It would make things easier.
But Jack had never been the kind of man who could make anything easy on himself. He scanned the crowd for the once face he’s really looking for. It wasn’t there. He screwed up his face and turned to Hurley.
“Where’s Kate?” he asked. Hurley’s jovial mood vanished almost instantly and a hard knot of fear formed in the middle of Jack’s chest. A serious look upon Hurley’s face, he knew from experience, was never followed by good news. “Hurley?”
“Can’t dude,” he replied, gravely, like he regretted saying it. Jack stared at him, confused. Hurley turned to face him, shrugging apologetically. “We promised.”
“We?” Jack questioned. He felt like he was on the outside of an inside joke. He looked around the deck and suddenly he noticed people actively avoiding his eyes. Maybe, he thought, it wasn’t that they wanted to make the departure easier on themselves, but that they knew something that he didn’t and were trying to hide that knowledge from him.
Hurley didn’t reply. In fact, he joined everyone in barely meeting Jack’s eyes. The closer they came to the dock, the more the silence began to stifle him. He could hardly believe this was happening at all. Kate had trusted all of these people to hide her, to keep the secret of her whereabouts. Everyone but him.
There would be police looking for her, Federal Marshals, and he didn’t want her discovered. But he couldn’t escape the dull pain in his chest, the pain that came with her lack of trust in him. She had put him on the outside, made him watch, and let him know that he wasn't a part of this. Or, that’s what the pain told him. He didn’t, honestly, know why she had chosen to exclude him, but he intended to ask her once she came out from her hiding place.
She crouches behind a tree, thick enough to hide her small frame from view on the other side. The gun in her hand is at the ready. She's being followed, and whoever they were, they were close. She thinks there might be two of them. Every now and then she hears their boots crunch leaves and break sticks. The sound reverberates through the jungle, the near dead silence magnifying it ten times over.
If there was just one, she would jump the guy, wrestle him to the ground and get his gun, but they’re not the stupid. They travel in packs, and if not, in pairs. They always have someone watching their back, a second gun if they needed it. No, they weren’t stupid. This all would have been over a long time ago if they were.
Moving quickly, she stops behind a line of bushes. They’re in front of her, now, and if she just waits long enough, she’ll be able to see them, maybe get a nice, clean shot off if she’s patient, and she chose a good enough hiding spot.
She tries not to make a sound, she barely breathes as the rustling comes again. There’s a loud crunch, a breaking stick, and she sucks in a long breath. It’s gonna need to last her, because that was incredibly close and she can’t afford to be discovered.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees something. She focuses and she almost can’t believe it, so she waits, and when she’s sure her eyes haven’t betrayed her, she lets out a relieved, yet annoyed, sigh and stands.
“Sawyer,” she hisses. The blonde hair she had seen jerks in her direction and she sees his face then. He looks shocked, then relieved. She just glares at him. “What are you doing here?” she demands. “You’re supposed to be looking for Jack.”
“I’m right here, Kate.”
Kate’s head snaps toward the sound of his voice, and sure enough, she can see him right behind Sawyer, crouched low and looking exhausted. She lets out a long, relieved sigh and smiles. “Hey,” she whispers, and they both stand, convinced that they’re in no immediate danger.
“Hey,” Jack replies.
“See, I found him,” Sawyer says, walking toward Kate. She continues to look past him, to Jack. Her eyes are filled with so much relief and affection that Sawyer rolls his eyes. “Now can we get the hell outta here before you both get me shot?”
Kate moves around Sawyer, walking slowly toward Jack. “Are you okay?” she asks.
Jack nods slowly, looking down before returning his gaze to her face. “Yeah,” he replies. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
She nods at him. “Good,” she says, adamantly, and punches him in his right shoulder. He grunts in pain and grabs at the general area where Kate’s fist connected, trying to ease the pain and failing. “Don’t ever wander off again. You could’ve got yourself killed.”
Jack stares at her, openmouthed, before shaking his head and nodding, apparently only willing to admit to Kate that, yeah, he did screw up.
“Hey, I got a great idea,” Sawyer says, standing beside the two of them and trying to get their attention. “We don’t we get the hell outta here before Sayid sends out another rescue party, huh?”
“Sawyer’s right,” Jack agrees.
“Damn right Sawyer’s right,” he replies quickly, motioning for them both to get moving. Kate nods, though she does so at Jack. Sawyer shakes his head at them both, because he knows they’re not looking at him. Apparently, no one is going to agree with him to his face today.
Kate passes Sawyer, taking the lead. When Jack passes Sawyer, Sawyer gives him an ‘I told you so’ look and Jack rolls his eyes at him. Nope. No one’s gonna agree with him to his face today.
As predicted, the US Marshals were there when the docked. They announced loudly, demandingly, that everyone remain where they were while the boat was searched for a wanted fugitive. A surly looking bald man marched directly up to Jack.
“Are you Jack Shephard?” he asked. Jack could only nod, dumbly. This was all beginning to feel even more surreal. “I’ve been informed that you’re the leader of this group, is that correct?”
An answer should have come easily to him, Jack thought, but it didn’t. What was he supposed to say? Was that what he was now? Was that what he had ever been? But the no-nonsense look in the man’s eyes told him all that he wanted was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. He didn’t have time for Jack to figure out who he really was in the eyes of these people, so he just said, “Yes.”
“Are you familiar with this woman?” He demanded, handing Jack a mugshot. Kate’s mugshot.
“There were a lot of people on the island, sir, it’s hard to remember,” he said. Sawyer had told him once, when they were stuck in a dirt hole for five hours, unarmed, without food, and waiting to be discovered – by anyone really, it didn’t matter to them because they were convinced that dirt hole would be their grave – that he had grown into a very convincing liar during their stay on the island. He had an honest face, Sawyer said. He was the kind of guy you wanted to believe, the kind of guy you thought were never lie to you, no matter what. That was good, Sawyer told him, if you knew what to do with it.
Jack could only hope now, that Sawyer wasn’t just giving him shit at the time.
“Was she among the dead?” The man pressed further. He could feel it working. The man wanted to believe him. He believed Jack was an earnest man who would never dream of lying to a federal officer. Maybe at one time he would have been right, but now…now was another time entirely. Jack felt like another man entirely. And this man did lie to federal officers. And he got away with it.
“I really have no idea,” Jack replied, shaking his head. “I want to help you, but…she just doesn’t look familiar.”
He nodded, seeming to size Jack up, before nodding once more, more definitively this time, and joining a few other men on the other side of the boat. They had been questioning the others, Jack knew. They all seemed to have gotten the same story. The large bald man turned back to Jack before he addressed his colleagues one last time. Jack’s lie had been the clincher, he guessed.
They announced, then, that they were going to search the ship just to make sure, and thank you for your cooperation. Panic seized in Jack’s chest, but as he looked around, he realized that he was the only one. Once the Marshals were out of view, everyone seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
He looked around, from person to person, and the looks on their faces were all the same. Triumph. They had lied just like Jack had lied, and they had been believed, just like Jack had been believed. He found Sawyer standing somewhere near the corner of the ship, staring out at the land. He looked almost forlorn, but also very much like a man who’d had quite a weight lifted off of his shoulders.
That was when Jack knew. Kate wouldn’t be found because Kate wasn’t here. His gaze followed Sawyer’s, landing on the city. She wasn’t here. She was there. And by tomorrow, God only knew where she would be.
Jack closed his eyes. She was gone.