Summary: Jack often felt like a puzzle piece being shoved into a space he wasn’t meant for, into a life that he no longer fit inside of.
Disclaimer: I do not own Lost. At all. I wish but alas...
Author's Note: For mysticxf, with apologies for, once again, taking so long.
Previous Parts: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
Jack is awakened by someone shaking his shoulder, jostling him back and forth. It’s only after he lifts up his head, squints in the dark, that he hears his name being whispered. “Jack. Jack, wake up.”
It’s Kate. Jack relaxes.
“You’re back,” is the first thing he says, turning over and seeing Kate behind him. The look on her face stops any other things he might have had to say cold. She looks on-edge, out of breath. Panic rises up in his chest.
“What happened?” he asks. “Are you alright? Sayid, Sawyer, Charlie, are they-”
“We’re fine Jack,” Kate assures, nearly breathless and already impatient with him. Jack orders himself to calm down, but it’s a hard task. He thinks, irrationally, that he should have been there. That way he wouldn’t have to be awoken, he would just know.
Kate removes her hand from his shoulder as he sits up. He sees, in the dim light being emitted by the fire outside of their tent, that she’s crouched beside him, that her rifle is slung over her shoulder. She looks ready to bolt out at any moment, and Jack still feels like he’s twenty steps behind.
“You have to follow me,” she says, rummaging around and eventually finding his jeans. She all but throws them at him and while he's pulling them on over his boxers, he is vaguely aware that she's changing herself. She’s peeling off her shirt, which is wet and caked with mud. Underneath it, her undershirt is also stained, with dirt, and, it looks like, blood.
In a fit of stupidity (and worry) Jack reaches out and touches one of the larger bloodstains. Kate hisses and her whole back tenses. She turns to him sharply, but Jack uncharacteristically skips the apology. “What happened?” he asks, more softly this time.
“It’s just a cut,” Kate tells him, scooting away and finally finding another shirt. She pulls it on quickly, hides her injury from view. Jack is seconds behind her, gun in hand, when they leave the tent. She's barreling along, still hasn't told Jack where they're going, but he isn't concerned about that right now. He's concerned about her.
He speeds up in front of her, stands in her way so that she has no choice but to stop. She sets her hands on her hips, huffs a bit, and stares up at him crossly. “You need a bandage,” he tells her. She purses her lips.
“It’s not that bad,” she assures, as if her mind is very much occupied with other things. More important things. “It’s already closing. Look, we can’t stand out here all night. We have to go.”
“Go where?” Jack questions, stepping backwards blindly when she takes a few strides forward.
“Down to the hatch,” she says, finally rounding him, tired of him standing in her way, waylaying her, distracting her. Jack follows behind, tries to keep up because Kate is almost running. “There’s something you need to see.”
“Are they close by?” Jack questions, but Kate doesn’t answer. They’re approaching the camp’s border rapidly. When they reach it, Kate nods to the guards on duty (Rash Guy – after all this time Jack still can’t remember his real name – and a rather timid-looking guy named Gary). She explains where they’re going, says they probably won’t be back until morning, and Jack wonders what on earth could possibly keep them that long.
But before he knows it, they’re venturing out into the field, and neither of them speak. They keep their footsteps quick and light, and after all this time, all this back and forth, they’ve got the process down pretty well. They approach the hatch and Kate turns the latch as quietly as is possible, climbs down the ladder, with Jack hot on her heels.
Once the door closes behind them, Jack is aware that there’s a great commotion going on inside the hatch. Everyone seems to be talking, and all at once, and Jack wonders how many people have been gathered for this particular meeting. When he and Kate enter the room, he has his answer.
Nearly everyone is there: Sawyer, Sayid, Desmond, Charlie, Claire, Hurley, Jin, Sun, and all of them. They’re seem to be arguing and Jack can’t tell if any one of them is really listening to anyone else, or if they’re just talking to talk. His old instincts take over and soon his voice is ringing out throughout the room, “Hey!”
Everyone turns to him, stopping in mid sentence, and even though he gets more than his fair share of petulant glares, he doesn’t really care. At least they’re all quiet now.
“What the hell is going on here?” Jack asks, like a man who’d like very much to know why he was dragged out of his bed without explanation. Sayid sighs, his arms folded, and steps forward.
“There has been a development,” he answers. Jack runs his hand tiredly over his face, squeezes the bridge of his nose.
“What kind of development?” Jack asks. “Do they know we’re here?”
“No,” Sayid replies. “However, we did run across one.”
“Who?” Jack questions.
Jack turns around, so quickly he almost pulls a muscle in his neck. And there she is, standing behind him and leaning against a wall. Short, brown hair, sixteen years old. Benjamin Linus’s daughter. Alex.
Alex had never seemed, to Jack, to be a social butterfly. His observations of her with the Others had been limited, and her interactions with him and the rest of his group had, for the most part, been utilitarian. As time had gone on, and as Danielle had been informed of her daughter’s presence, she rarely left her mother’s side – whether by Danielle’s design or her own, Jack had no idea.
So, to say he was surprised when he saw her in the center of a large group of people, laughing like any other teenager, would be quite the understatement indeed. She looked relaxed, happy, at home. She looked…normal.
It hadn’t been hard for Jack to find her. They had all landed back in Los Angeles, but, for the most part, the survivors had gone their separate ways. Sun and Jin stayed close by, as did Hurley, but Jack had never suspected Danielle would do likewise. However, that was just what she had done, settling down, buying a home, enrolling Alex in a real school.
The island had made Danielle weary, distrusting, and maybe taken a bit of her sanity from her. But having her child back seemed to have mellowed her, restored something inside of her that she had lost long ago. She had given Jack directions to her daughter’s high school without reservation, trusting him, after all they had been through together, to know that, whatever motivated him, he was her friend, her daughter’s friend.
It appeared, to Jack, that Alex had a normal life now. Friends. Family. She seemed to fit into it all very naturally. Jack envied that. Jack often felt like a puzzle piece being shoved into a space he wasn’t meant for, into a life that he no longer fit inside of. Nothing relaxed him anymore. Nothing made him feel at ease. Not his job, not the lack of his job. Not reconnecting with old friends, not finally being rid of troublesome and dangerous enemies. Alex had been born, raised on the island, but she had left it behind when she’d left its shores. Jack wondered how she had done it, if it was easy.
He lingered a few hundred yards away, apprehensive, unsure. While he was waiting, she saw him and she froze. Stopped in the middle of a sentence. Suddenly Jack had the eyes of an entire group of teenagers, whispering to one another and sending questioning glances his way, on him. He shifted a bit, uncomfortable. He hadn’t really liked high school all that much when he was in it. Being back, well, being back felt like the same old same old. He felt out of place, just like he had then. But, then again, that was his normal operating state, so at the very least, it was familiar.
She shoved off from the table she was seated in the middle of and her friends made way for her as she climbed down. She left them without explanation, walked away despite the obvious questions raised. Who was he? How did Alex know him? Why did she look like she was seeing a ghost? Jack was propelled forward by some unknown force and by that time, Alex was walking that much faster.
When they collided, his arms went around her back and she reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck. She’s a little taller now, so she just made it. She closed her eyes against his neck, and he held the back of her head in his hand. It was hard for Jack to explain, even to himself, but he felt connected to something when he held her. He felt better, if only for that one moment.
“What are you doing her?” she asked, when they broke apart, amazement evident in her voice. She smiled, wide, and he smiled back, ducked his head.
“I actually…I have to talk to you about something,” he said, wishing that he didn’t have to intrude on her life, disrupt her happiness, take her mind back to the island. But she just nodded, taking his request in stride, and suddenly, she wasn’t the teenager she had been a minute before. No, she was an adult again, the adult he’d seen her as on the island. She had been shown what the world was like by the people that she lived with, by her father. She had been forced to grow up far to fast: bitter and jaded, cynical and angry at age sixteen.
She was seventeen now, wearing trendy clothes with a throng of friends, but she was still that girl, the girl that Ben’s love (if it could be called that) had made her. It centered Jack, grounded him, took him out of the fantasy that he had made of Alex and her new life. It made it easier to bring her back to the island, to what had happened there, to ask her to explain things for him, make sense of them.
“It’s about the island,” he told her. In a round-about way, he supposed it was about the island. It was all about the island, about what had happened there. He didn’t mention Kate yet, though. He didn’t want to empty all of his thoughts and questions into her lap just yet.
Alex nodded a few times, but otherwise showed no reaction. Her mind seemed to be racing over multiple things at once, and Jack just waited for her train of thought to come to a stop. She nodded one final time and said, “Give me a second.”
Jack barely had time to nod back before Jack was jogging off to her friends. They all descended on her at once, asking questions, looking confused, concerned. She ignored most of them, grabbing her backpack instead. She turned to one of them in particular, a boy who, to be perfectly honest, looked like an eighteen year old Sawyer. She kissed him and even from as far away as Jack was he could hear her say, “I’m cutting last period. Take notes for me?” The boy just smirked at her, then nodded, and she took off from the table jogging again.
“Come on,” she said, gesturing toward the gate and walking ahead of him.
Jack thought that there was something comforting about the fact that, even after all this time, Alex was still the consummate leader, the one who knew the score and lead around people twice her age without reservation. There was really nothing left for him to do but follow her.
“What’s she doing here?” Jack asks, nearly immediately. Without thinking.
“That’s exactly what I said,” Charlie replies, with more annoyance that Jack had. This must have been what they were all arguing about when Jack had entered. It seemed that Alex’s presence had caused a ripple among the group.
“I assure you, she means us no harm,” Sayid says. Charlie crosses his arms over his chest. Alex appears unphased. Apparently, Charlie doesn’t even appear the least bit threatening to a teenager. “She hates Ben as much as we do.”
“What if she leads him to us, huh?” Charlie shoots back. “What then?” Claire grabs his arm then, silencing him with little more than a look. He sighs and leans back against the rows of monitors.
“I’m a much better tracker than he is,” Alex says.
“Bet those damn hidey-holes you got in the ground don’t hurt either,” Sawyer comments. He loves putting people on the outside of his inside jokes. Alex smirks back and shakes her head.
“Yeah, they come in handy,” she replies. “Ben doesn’t know where I am. I ran away a month ago, he hasn’t found me.”
“Why would you do that?” Jack asks. Alex turns to face him.
“Because I was looking for you,” she answers.
“We found her a few hours ago,” Sayid explains. Alex cuts him off almost immediately.
“I found you,” she says. “Pulled him,” she points to Sawyer. “Into a bush.”
“Kate alerted us that Sawyer had gone missing,” Sayid goes on, unphased by Alex’s interjections. “We found the both of them and Alex escorted us to a safer place, a place that she knew the Others would not find us. A place where her motivations were discussed,” Sayid directs that remark in Charlie’s direction. “And objections were registered.”
“And ignored,” Charlie comments, under his breath.
Kate rolls her eyes and continues for Sayid, “The hatch where we went looking for the medicine,” she explains, and Claire nods.
“The Staff,” Alex says. “They looked there a while ago and didn’t find you. They never check the same place twice.”
“She said that she meant us no harm, but that she would not discuss anything further until she was escorted to our camp,” Sayid says. “We would not agree. Though I am convinced that she does, indeed, want nothing more than to escape from Ben, we knew that her presence would cause a panic.”
“So we brought her down here,” Sawyer inserts.
“Yes,” Sayid nods. “And then we gathered everyone we felt we could trust with that knowledge.”
Sawyer turns to Alex then, arms crossed over his chest, sardonic smirk on his face. “We kept up our end of the deal, sister, now it’s your turn,” he says. Alex matches his stance with ease, stares him down with the determination of someone twice her age.
“Ben’s getting closer,” she says, stepping forward and shifting her gaze from person to person. “It’s only a matter of time before he finds you. A week, maybe two. You need to move your people back to the beach.”
“Why?” Kate asks, confused.
“Because by the time they get there, rescue boats will be waiting for them,” Alex says. “I know how to get you home. And all that I want is for you to take me with you when you go.”
“If you know how to get off this rock, why the hell haven’t you?” Sawyer asks, suspicious. Alex shifts her gaze over to him.
“Because I can’t do it alone,” she replies. “It’s a two man job, maybe three if you want to do it right. Ben’s people listen to him, but I can only wave him in their face for so long. They follow him blindly, not me. And they don’t trust me enough to let me do what needs to be done.”
“I take that to mean you’ve got a plan then, Sheena?” Sawyer asks.
“I’ve had a month to think about it while I was looking for all of you,” she answers. “I have a plan. And I can get you all home.”
Silence takes over the room and everyone seems to be thinking – all at once – about what Alex is really saying. They haven’t thought about it in so long, haven’t been this close to the possibility in so long. And now that it’s so close to them they can touch it, none of them seem know what to say.
“So…what do you say?”
They all seem to turn to each other, looking for the answer in each other’s eyes. Predictably, it’s Sawyer who speaks up first. “I’m in,” he says.
“Me too,” Kate replies, with a nod. They’re a chorus of “yes’s” and “yeah’s” and even an “aye” or two. But it’s Jack who remains silent, except for a small, relieved smile. After all this time, he can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is all going to end. He’s going to go home.
Everyone seems to be congratulating themselves for a victory not yet won. There’s hugging and smiles all around, and Jack thinks that there’s nothing wrong with that. They may not be home yet, but they’re closer than they’ve ever been. After all this time, all the battles and fear and lost lives, they finally have their hope back.
Alex bit through french fry after french fry like a girl who’d been deprived of them most of her life. That may or may not have been true, God only knew what Ben fed to his people, how sheltered he had kept the girl he’d stolen and claimed as his daughter.
They were outside, at a McDonalds a few miles away from Alex’s school. She had ordered an enormous burger, a large drink, and a large fry. Jack wasn’t very hungry, so he just awkwardly watched her eat. She sipped her drink and looked at him like she was studying him, like she was trying to figure him out. Jack wished her luck. He was still trying to figure himself out.
“You want to know about her, don’t you?” Alex asked, like she had him all figured out. Jack cocked his head to the side, questioningly. “Kate, right?”
Jack nodded, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table. He took off his sunglasses and set them aside, running his hands over his short hair. “Yeah,” he answers, quietly. “Yeah, it’s about Kate.”
“I don’t know where she is,” Alex said, taking a big bite of her burger. Jack almost laughed, but he was able to hold it in.
His reply was, however, dripping with bitter and mirthless. “Neither do I.” Alex looked up and Jack felt himself being studied once more. It made him feel uncomfortable. He wondered what she saw when she looked at him, if everything that he was feeling was written across his face. He wouldn’t be surprised, but he wished Alex would say something instead of watching him.
“Sayid told me you helped her to the boats that night. The night she escaped,” Jack started again, trying to move the conversation along. Alex nodded, setting down her burger.
“Yeah, I did. She got in and I lowered the boat down into the water,” Alex explained. “But I left after that. We all helped her leave, but…none of us knew where she was going. She didn’t want us to. Just in case the police didn’t believe us.”
Jack nodded along, letting everything sink in. He still couldn’t let go of the resentment, the thought that he should have been on the inside of Kate’s plans, that he shouldn’t have to be hearing all of this from a third party. He sighed and shook his head.
“What about before that,” Jack asked. “When you were with us. Did she say anything to you then?”
Alex shook her head, but Jack could tell it wasn’t an outright denial. She was thinking. “I don’t know what you’re looking for, Jack,” she eventually said, and Jack had to admit, he was taken aback. By the frankness in her voice, by the way she looked at him and he felt as if she was so very much older than he was. “Kate never told me where she was going to go. She never talked about old hide-outs or places she felt comfortable. She didn’t talk about much of anything, except getting off of the island and you.”
Jack didn’t even realize he had hung his head until it shot back upward at that. Alex went on, “It was weird, you know. I’d hear her talk when you weren’t there and she seemed…so much different than she did when you were around. It’s like she put a wall up.” Alex reached for a fry and chewed it while gazing off into the distance thoughtfully. “She wanted to get off the island so badly, but when it was really happening, she was different. It was almost like she wasn’t so sure anymore.”
“She said all this to you?” Jack questioned. Alex shook her head.
“She didn’t say anything to me,” Alex replies. “But I’m a good listener. She mostly talked to Sawyer. About what they’d do when they were off the island.” Alex laughed a little and shook her head. “Sawyer wanted whiskey. I remember that. And Kate…couldn’t answer. I don’t think she really knew.”
“Did she…” Jack stopped, sighed. Did he even want to ask this question? Was he ready to have it answered? Did he really even care anymore? He sighed again, and give it another shot. “Did she say why…why she didn’t tell me about it? Any of it?”
“I asked,” Alex said. “Just before she got in the boat. She just…shook her head. I didn’t ask anything else after that, just...lowered the boat and went back to bed.” Jack sighed and leaned his head forward, resting them on his hands and grinding at his eyes with the heels of his hands. He felt a migraine coming on.
Alex slurped on her drink and Jack looked up at her, feeling completely drained. Physically, emotionally. In every sense of the word. He was starting to think that he would never find Kate, resigning himself to the fact that he was going to coexist with these feelings forever. And even if he did find her, what was he going to say to her.
“Why did you abandon me?”
“Couldn’t you trust me?”
“Did you ever really care at all?”
He didn’t know what he would say. He didn’t think there was anything to say. Maybe he just needed to see her. Maybe he just needed closure. Maybe it wasn’t about Kate at all.
Who was he kidding? Of course it was about Kate. It had always been about Kate.
“You want to find her pretty bad, don’t you?” Alex asked. Jack snorted, bitterly, and shook his head.
“I…” He sighed. “I don’t know anymore. The more I hear, the more I…the more I don’t know.”
“She loved you, Jack,” Alex assured. Jack wanted to believe her, but he wasn’t sure that he did.
“You don’t know that,” he replied.
“I do,” she answered. Jack looked up and she nodded, as though she was sure in a way that Jack hadn’t been in such a long time – what felt like forever. “And she did.”
Jack nodded, even though he remained unconvinced. He was leaving this conversation with little more than he’d had going into it. No definitive leads as to where Kate might be. More assurances that he should be at Sawyer’s doorstep right now, and too much emotional baggage added onto the already massive pile.
“Do you need a ride home?” Jack asked, tired and very much in the mood to fall into his bed. Alex finished off her drink and tossed it in a nearby trashcan.
“I’ve got one,” she answered, nodding behind him. Jack turned around and saw the blonde kid from before, waiting in an old, black Chevy. He nodded at Alex and Jack turned around to see her smile.
“I’m glad you’re finally happy,” Jack tells her, managing to keep the envy he feels out of his voice.
“And I’m sad you’re not,” she replied, and Jack couldn’t help but let a small smile creep across his face. “I hope you find her, Jack. I’m sure she misses you too.”
“Then why has she spent so long staying away?”
Alex shrugged, unable to answer. “We all have our reasons,” she said. She stood, grabbing her bag and slinging it over her shoulder. She bent down and kissed Jack’s cheek.
“Don’t be a stranger,” she said before patting his shoulder and taking off, jogging across the street and back to her life.
Jack watched her leave, waved when she waved to him, and then pulled the very last fry out of the container. He ate it as he walked back toward his car. The idea of driving away his headache with a good night’s sleep grew more and more appealing as the miles passed.
He was going to need all the sleep he could get, all the energy he could muster, and all the courage he possessed. Because, ready or not, he knew what he had to do now. He had put it off for far too long.
He had to see Sawyer. And he was going to do it tomorrow.