Summary: James gets some bad news about Jack
Note:Set after foxxcub’s Milieu and also best if you've read uberaeryn's The Long Way Home. For the fanfic100 prompt "Broken." x-posted to jackjames_verse
James determinedly coaxes the thick, sludgy oil out of the old Chevy. It’s dirty work, but he doesn’t mind, really. A guy’s gotta do something.
He’s new, not a lot of experience, so he gets all the jobs no one else wants. It’s either this or go back to school. Somehow, he just didn’t end up going back after his suspension was over and his aunt finally quit harping on him about it.
He had his reasons was all he’d told her and she let him be. He just couldn't face everyone knowing they knew. It’s not like he was gonna go to college or anything. He thinks that probably Jack will be going away, some fancy school back East maybe, and it doesn’t matter, really, since he won’t see him anymore anyway. He’d thought of leaving town himself but he might as well have. L.A.’s a big town and he never has to know Jack even existed.
The oil job’s finally done, his fifth today, and as he wipes his hands, he idly watches a tow truck bring in a smashed-up black Jeep. He doesn’t give it a second thought, except that they’re in the wrong place because the Jeep looks more ready for the wrecking yard.
And then he takes another look, a nagging familiarity coming over him. He strolls over, trying to keep a grip on the panic rising in him. The thing’s a mess - roof crumpled in, the front end a twisted mass of metal. It looks like it rolled over several times and caught fire. But he can still see the upholstery inside. It looks an awful lot like one he remembers falling asleep on. Jack.
The fumes from the garage suddenly seem too harsh. He thinks he needs some air, but he’s already outside. He puts his hand on the handle of the door on the driver’s side. Tell me Jack opened this door himself.
George is signing to receive the Jeep. “Nothing we can do, I tried telling the guy that,” he’s saying. “Total loss. But he won’t believe me until the insurance investigator comes out.”
“What guy?” James’s voice sounds tinny in his own ears.
George turns to look at him in surprise. “The kid’s dad. Man, he was steamed. Guess Junior will be grounded till he’s 21.”
“So the driver is...?” James focuses on the clipboard in George’s hand, everything at the edge of it blurring slightly.
“In the hospital, probably,” he shrugs. “Why, friend of yours?”
He shows James the paperwork. The name scrawled there flickers on the page. “Yeah. Was.”
“You look kinda green, kid. You OK?”
But James is already walking toward the gate, the sounds of the garage and George and everything fading into a distant buzz.
He’s in his car without knowing where he’s going. He tries not to think of the Jeep in flames, of Jack trapped in that twisted metal. Tries not to think of the last time Jack drove him home in the Jeep, of skin on skin and heat and sweat and that bone-deep feeling that everything was right for maybe the first and last time.
He just drives, turning without any thought, until he’s on Santa Monica Blvd., weaving between cars, passing all the slow drivers like they’re not even there. He turns left on San Vicente and now he knows where he was going. Cedars-Sinai. The rich people’s hospital.
He parks across the street at the Beverly Center, where it’s cheap, and walks across to the emergency room, heart thudding in his chest.
He can’t remember the last time he was in a hospital. That’s a lie. He can remember exactly when, he just doesn’t want to. Doesn’t want to remember waiting on the hard plastic chairs with his mama until they were seen, or wondering why she said she fell down the stairs when their house only had the one story.
He licks his lips and approaches the desk. The woman automatically shoves a form at him to fill out. “No, I want to see a patient. Jack Shephard,” he says, voice hushed as if he’s in church. He has the oddest feeling they’re going to tell him to leave, even if he’s there, that they’re going to show him the door. He’s suddenly conscious of the grease stains on his hands and face, that he’s still wearing his coveralls from work.
But the woman just taps a few keys into a computer terminal and tells him, “Room 1204” and points him to the elevators. Found you. He wants to bombard her with questions but she’s already busy with someone else so he pushes off from the counter and heads to the elevators, senses humming again.
Relief spikes in him, followed immediately by dread. He’s actually here. He eyes the exit, wondering if he should just leave.
Instead, he pushes the “up” button and then tries to wipe off a smear of grease he’s left behind. A well-dressed woman next to him doesn’t bother to hide a look of contempt.
He shuffles toward the back of the elevator, crowded by an old man in a wheelchair and his nurse, and the businesswoman, who’s wheeling around a small suitcase of samples or something, he figures. He’s never felt more out of place. He should have cleaned up before he came, at least.
The elevator empties and then at last reaches his floor. He wanders until he sees room 1204 and stands outside it dumbly for far too long. He reaches for the doorknob and it turns and then he’s standing inside the room. There’s only one bed. Jack is lying there, bandaged and still, but god, breathing.
There are no other visitors and James didn’t even think about that until now, that he might be barging in on a family visit. He stands by the door, just watching Jack’s chest rise and fall, noting the scrapes on his face, the cast on one arm. He slowly walks closer and then he’s standing right over him.
He feels like he’s intruding, like he’s broken into Jack’s house to watch him sleep. But he can’t move. He just came to make sure Jack was OK, and he looks battered, but in one piece. Now he’s not sure what he wants. He puts a hand out, brushing Jack’s arm, the one that’s not broken. He’s warm to the touch. Real.
James sighs out an enormous breath -- he didn’t even realize he’d been holding it. Jack’s eyelids flutter open and then he’s staring at him, confused. “James?” He sounds sleepy, drugged maybe.
“Yeah,” James says, his voice low, throat unaccountably tight. “None other.”
Jack smiles, a feeble little smile, and his eyelids flutter again, as if that’s too much effort. “James,” he says again, and Jack’s the only one who ever says his name like that, like he’s smiling even when he’s not. He squints up at him. His voice croaks, as if hasn’t spoken in days. “You’re a mess.”
James laughs, “I’m a mess?” and Jack’s trying to laugh too, until he starts to cough.
“Hey, easy,” James says awkwardly, rubbing his fingertips in circles on Jack’s good arm. “Sorry. Didn’t bother cleanin’ up for you.”
Jack’s eyes roam over him and James ducks his head. He didn’t think he’d have to explain his appearance, what it meant, that he’d dropped everything and come straight here.
“’s good to see you,” Jack murmurs and James just nods.
“Your Jeep got towed to where I work. Not a pretty sight.” He’s swallowing back more words and he sees Jack’s eyes get brighter.
“Looked ... bad, huh?” His voice is getting scratchier now, from overuse or emotion.
“Yeah. Pretty fuckin’ bad. Guess you’re got lucky, huh Prep?”
“Yeah,” Jack sighs. He turns away from James and points towards a cup on the nightstand. “Ice.”
“Can’t have water ... just ice.”
“OK.” James grabs the cup, which has some shaved ice in it that hasn’t melted yet. He goes to fish out a sliver but then he realizes how filthy his hands are. He rubs them on his coveralls but that just makes them worse. He sees now he’s left smudges of oil on Jack’s arm too.
“Shit, I’ll be right back,” he says and Jack gives the faintest nod, head falling back heavily on the pillow.
Fortunately, Jack’s scored a private bathroom. James washes his hands over and over but the pink soap isn’t much good against grease. He sighs and gives up and then goes to work on his face, scrubbing at his own frowning reflection until he looks a little more presentable. He spends another minute or two wiping down the sink and the handles that he’s blackened. He finally remembers to take the coveralls off and the T-shirt and jeans underneath aren’t exactly clean but they’re a definite improvement.
When he comes back out, he’s afraid Jack’s gone under again, but when he sits down by the bed, his eyes are open and fixed on him.
He lifts his head with effort and James bends closer, cupping his hand behind Jack’s head. He feeds him the ice and Jack’s mouth closes around his fingers for a second as he sucks it in and James can’t help the shiver that runs through him.
“Still ... taste like grease,” Jack sighs. “And ... soap.”
“Yeah, well, if I wasn’t here you’d be getting no ice at all, Shephard.” His hand is smoothing over Jack’s arm again.
Jack closes his eyes and smiles and James doesn’t know what to say next. “So how’d it happen?” he finally asks.
“Fell asleep at the wheel, on Laurel Canyon. Just been pushing too hard with school and ... everything.” Jack’s faces flushes and he’s shaking his head and frowning. “I was just thinking I could barely keep my eyes open and then I’m upside down.”
Jack looks beyond him, gesturing with his good arm and James takes his hand back.
“You flipped over?” James winces.
“Yeah, down the ravine.”
They sit for another minute in silence, James not wanting to push him for more details. He imagines how much worse it could have been.
“But you’re OK?”
“Broke my arm, collarbone ... fucked up my spleen,” Jack’s fading, his words trailing off. “But I walked away from it,” he adds, pride giving his voice strength.
“Good,” James says and once again he’s out of words because now Jack’s definitely crying.
“I fucked up everything,” he’s saying, his face crumpling up. “It’s all my fault.”
“Hey, it’s OK,” James is leaning closer, awkwardly patting his good shoulder. “You walked away, remember?”
“No, it can’t be fixed, can it?” He’s got ahold of James by the arm now and his grip is surprisingly strong for someone who’s been fighting off unconsciousness the whole time.
“You mean the Jeep?” He is talking about the Jeep, isn’t he? “Yeah, that’s totaled. But maybe you can still salvage some parts...”
“Man, I loved that Jeep,” Jack closes his eyes, tears still slipping out underneath the lids.
“I know.” James closes his hand over Jack’s and he feels the tension go out of him. And he knows Jack is remembering the same thing he is, remembering them trying to maneuver in that tiny space, how they couldn’t stop touching each other, just couldn’t stop, and how he tasted. It had been so fucking good to finally be alone together, which is the only reason they must have managed to sleep through till morning. Yeah, he was pretty fond of that Jeep himself.
Jack is mumbling something so softly that James isn’t sure he’s hearing him right.
He lowers his head alongside Jack’s. “You missed me?” He’s holding his breath, already thinking he misheard him, that he’s said too much.
Jack breathes out and his fingers curl around James’s arm again, squeezing tight. James stays bent over him but he doesn’t say anything else and his fingers start to lose their grip.
James watches him sleep for another minute, feeling the soft puff of his breath.
He brushes his hand over Jack’s cheek, still wet with tears, ghosting over a bruise there. “Christ, you had me scared, Prep,” he finally says softly. “It’s one thing not seein’ you, but ... but don’t you fuckin’ go anywhere.”
His throat is tight and he’s glad Jack is asleep. He’s already feeling foolish for rushing over here. Now Jack will know it’s all bullshit, that it’s just his pride keeping him away and now he’s blown his cover all to hell.
He wonders if he were the one in this bed if Jack would have come to see him. He has the sickest feeling in the pit of stomach that he wouldn’t have. He doesn’t know what’s worse, seeing Jack laying there weak and broken or going through this all over again, telling himself it’s the last time, that it has to be. It’s turning him inside out, this horrible, low ache that takes over him when he sees Jack. It’s different, sharper than the ache of not seeing him and he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to either one.
He runs his hand down Jack’s arm and he thinks maybe he should stay until Jack wakes up again and make it a real goodbye. But this is so much easier this way.
Now he knows Jack’s OK. It’s all he came for.
He puts his hands in his pocket and stands up and then he sees someone standing in the doorway.
“Who, might I ask, are you?” It’s a tall, stern man with silver at his temples and his tone might be polite but his expression is one of someone seconds away from calling security. Jack’s dad.
James flushes, wondering how long he’s been standing there. “No one. Just a friend. I was just leavin’.”
Those cold eyes are taking in his clothes, the dirt, and James’s hands clench at his sides.
“A friend?” A shrill female voice sounds over Dr. Shephard’s shoulder and then she steps forward. The girl. The one Jack said he was through with. “He’s the one who beat up Jack,” she cries accusingly. “What is he doing here?” There are some more kids from school crowding in now and he recognizes a few from the basketball team and James doesn’t see a friendly face among them.
“You hit my son?” There’s controlled outrage in his voice as Jack’s dad steps closer and James wants so badly to say something back. He wants more than anything to wipe that superior look off his face, to shout that he knows what kind of a father he is.
But he doesn’t. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t hit him. He just gives him an icy glare. “I said I was goin,’” he says again and makes his way to the door, chin up now, inviting comment, inviting a blow.
Benson and some redhaired guy move to the side and let him walk out and he knows everyone is watching him go and that the second he’s out of earshot they’ll be talking about him in low, shocked tones.
The blood is pounding in his ears and there’s a haze in front of him as he walks toward the elevator. He pushes the button hard, desperate to be away from there, to just get the fuck home. The elevator isn’t coming and he punches the button again and he’s still thinking of the reception he got back there and wondering if any of those jokers know who’s the real threat to Jack. And he keeps slamming the button until he hears something crack. A sharp, hot pain shoots through his hand. He’s holding it up, staring at, when he hears someone talking to him.
“Looks like you broke it.” He turns and Jack’s dad is standing there. He glares at him but Dr. Shephard just reaches for his hand. “Well, a finger anyway. Come here.”
James doesn’t know why he follows him. The doctor leads James to an empty exam room and rummages around and finds a splint. “Sit,” he instructs and James does. His hand hurts something fierce now and he feels about six, trusting in the grownups to make things right. “I can fix that for you. I’m guessing you don’t have any insurance.”
Jack’s dad takes his hand and he keeps talking the whole time he’s splinting his finger. “So you’re a friend of Jack’s,” he says, wholly occupied with James’s hand and not even looking at him. “Then you know he has a big heart. It gets him in trouble.”
James is holding his breath, wondering why he doesn’t speak up, not wanting to admit that he’s more than a little afraid of this man, of what he’d do to Jack if he knew. Alarms are going off in his head that he already knows, but he tries to zero in through his panic, listen to what he’s really saying.
“... this strange affinity for strays,” Dr. Shephard is saying. “His best friend, Marc, he stood up for him one day on the playground. It wasn’t even his fight, but that’s Jack. He likes to get involved in things that aren’t any of his concern. Take you.”
James flinches as the doctor maneuvers his finger. He’s unable to look away from Dr. Shephard’s hands. “Maybe Jack doesn’t mind that you hit him. But I do.”
James literally bites his tongue to keep from speaking. He’s choking on his rage and all he can think of is hauling off and hitting this hypocritical bastard but he reminds himself that Jack has to live with it if he does.
“I won’t see my son taken advantage of,” Dr. Shephard says and he smiles so insincerely it makes James hate him all the more. He snaps his finger into place and James jumps. “He’s going to be a doctor. And you’re just a ... dropout.”
He tapes the splint in place with practiced ease. “There you go. And I trust that will be all.”
James knows that if he doesn’t say something now, say just the right thing to put this bastard in his place, he’ll always regret it. But he doesn’t dare. He doesn’t trust himself and so he just smiles back, stretching his mouth over clenched teeth. He forces himself to walk out slowly and then he finds the stairs. He spends his fury on swinging open the door and he runs down three floors before stopping to vomit. He’s never been so humiliated in his life.
He should never have come, he should never have come, he should never have come, he thinks as he trips down the stairs. When he finally hits the ground level, the fresh air feels cool on his face. The sun has set in the meantime and the streets are crowded with people rushing every which way.
He finds his car in the garage across the street and he sits in it for the longest time, just feeling the throb of his broken finger. Finally, he puts the seat back and closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to go home just yet.
(TBC. I have a follow-up in the works.)