Summary: Angsty AU - Jack is a priest, Kate and Sawyer are prisoners on death row
Rating: PG-13 for this chapter only
Note: Film noir meets Lost. Very loose homage to the Fritz Lang film of the same name. Inspired by a comment from ada_farrow. This will also end up being for demonqueen666’s “50 Day Challenge.” If any Catholics take exception with my depiction of their faith, please feel free to kick me an email and I'll be glad to amend, as needed.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” The voice was working class British and sounded contrite.
“Don’t get a lot of English parishioners,” Jack thought, while automatically prompting the man on the other side of the confessional to go on.
The young man, who looked to be mid-20s at the most, nervously rattled off a series of minor sins: lying, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and double-parking, before getting to the reason he was obviously here. “I’ve ... I’ve gotten back on the drugs, Father. I try to fight it, but I just can’t. It’s made me lie. Made me steal. It’s lost me everything.”
He sounded so anguished that if it weren’t for the confessional booth, Jack might have given into his natural inclination and hugged him. But priests didn’t go around hugging people. Maybe a paternal hand on the shoulder now and then. Mostly it was a cool compassion, delivered in calm, measured tones, that he delivered. He could see when his words soothed people, when they took comfort in either what he said or simply from the act of confessing.
He told the young man the usual things, to seek counseling, to find a sponsor. He had some brochures in his office he could give him. He saw the man -- a boy really -- nod, but he still looked downcast. This wasn’t the first time he’d been through this, Jack realized. Perhaps there was no helping him this time. Jack fell back on his usual phrases. “You must be strong. You must have faith.” But today those phrases felt cold. They sounded meaningless. He prescribed some Hail Marys. He told him to come back. Jack told him that even if his friends didn’t stand by him, God would. He, Father Shepard, would be praying for him.
The young man left, and Jack saw him dip his fingers in the holy water and cross himself as he walked out of the gloom of the church and into the fading sunshine. A habit or true devoutness? It was hard to tell sometimes.
He sighed. It was 3 p.m. He still had a few more hours here. And then he had this evening, which he didn’t want to think about. The call had come early this morning. Father Cornell was ill, could he fill in for him at the penitentiary? It wasn’t something he particularly wanted to do, but giving a condemned man his last rites was important. Jack had performed the ritual several times for dying men, women, and children. He’d gone to hospitals and nursing homes, to palatial mansions and shabby apartments. But he’d never gone to a prison before.
As his time to leave for the prison got closer, he found himself paying less and less attention to the person on the other side of the wooden panel.
There was the young man with the bright blue eyes who shamefacedly admitted an unhealthy infatuation with his stepsister. And the shy, pretty Asian woman who wanted to leave her husband.
And the heavily pregnant young woman - also with mesmerizingly blue eyes - who wanted to know if giving her child up for adoption was the right thing. She shakily outlined her circumstances: she was broke and alone in the world since the father of the child had abandoned her. And a couple was willing to pay her for the baby, she admitted, sounding guilty. “Is that wrong?” she asked tearily. “I just want to do what’s right.”
And then she admitted the other thing that was bothering her. “Father, I know it’s wrong, but I went to a psychic. And he told me there was something wrong with the baby. And I’ve been having these nightmares. I’m just so afraid that whatever I decide it will be the wrong thing.”
“What do you want to do?” Jack asked her kindly.
“I’d like to keep him,” she said, wiping her tears with the back of her hand. “But I don’t see how I can do it alone. And I’m scared. What if that psychic was right?”
It took several more minutes to assure her that that man was simply a charlatan, preying on the natural nervousness of an expectant mother. When she left the confessional, she looked hopeful, and Jack felt that maybe he had done some good there. She was such a lovely thing, and in such need of protection and kindness, that his heart went out to her.
And he thought again, for the millionth time, what he would have been like as a father. He couldn’t understand a man who would leave a woman who was expecting his child.
But then, he didn’t understand a lot of human behavior. He saw the worst of it every day, but that didn’t mean he ever understood it. He felt again that familiar melancholy, that by choosing the priesthood he had cut himself off from humanity, that it was a dodge, and that he was hiding from real pain, real challenge, real life. “But I feel pain,” he told himself ruefully. He took in everyone’s pain, so much so that he stayed awake nights worrying about everyone who came to see him. He had his days where he felt powerless to truly help anyone. And the nights following those days were worse.
The last person in line seen to, he stepped out of the confessional and walked back to his office. He had time for a quick jog, yet, he decided, changing into his track suit. It was dark as he walked out of the church, breaking into an easy jog. He headed for the park, greeted with cheery waves and smiles along the way. Hitting the jogging trail, he let the day fall away, let his mind still as he pushed himself to his endurance point, trying to burn off the uneasiness of his upcoming duty.
The alarm on his watch sounded and he headed back to the church. He grabbed a quick shower and was ready by the time the police came to pick him up.
The older cop, an Officer Locke, was talkative without being pushy. He casually inquired how much Jack knew about the man who was going to be executed.
“James Collier. Con artist. Thief. And cold-blooded murderer,” the policeman said, ticking off the man’s history as he drove, like he was reading from a dimestore novel. “Hard-luck case, all right. His father shot his mother and then blew his own head off right in front of him as a boy, after a con man cleaned them out. Bounced around foster homes until they sent him to juvie. Had a rap sheet several pages long by the time he was 19. His lawyer figured wrong that he would get life because Collier thought he was getting revenge for his parents when he shot his victim. Course, he had the wrong guy. They don’t give free passes for mistaken identity when you murder someone.”
Jack recalled the man now. He’d been on the news nearly every night for months, alternately scowling at the cameras or charming them with a broad smile offset by deep-set dimples.
”Good looking sonofabitch. He got love letters every day he was on trial,” continued Officer Locke. “Still gets dozens of marriage proposals. He made his living seducing women into giving up their money. Seems he didn’t have to try all that hard.”
“It’s a sad story,” Jack agreed. So much damage done so young, he thought as he stared out the window of the patrol car. It was an all-too familiar tale. Thoughts of his own father flitted into his mind. If he’d had a different father, would he have had a different life? Maybe he wouldn’t have been afraid of having children himself. It stops with me, he thought grimly. But for some the pain kept being passed on from father to son.
In his current frame of mind, he didn’t know what kind of comfort he could offer this man, Collier. It was pro forma, really. From what he’d heard, he doubted this man would be a believer. So many men, faced with death, found themselves grasping at straws and wanting to take out an insurance policy with God, just in case He really did exist. And sometimes, in those last few moments, they actually did believe.
They pulled up to the penitentiary, an imposing-looking, hulking behemoth of a building, appropriately fortified like a modern-day castle. The guard waved them through and the automatic gate rumbled open slowly.
“Won’t be anyone there for him,” Locke continued. “He didn’t have any family. Neither did the man he killed. It will be up to you if you want to stay for the execution. Not an easy thing to stomach, even for a priest, I imagine.”
The thought of witnessing the execution hadn’t even crossed Jack’s mind. He felt the gloom descend on him as they walked inside and he shivered involuntarily. The institutional corridors were grim, with harsh overhead lights that made everyone look haggard and old. He was briefed on procedure, what to do, what not to do. While Locke and his partner stayed behind, Jack was finally led to the condemned man by the burliest guard he had ever seen. He must have topped the scales at 300 lbs, Jack figured, reading that his name tag spelled “Reyes.”
Images from a dozen movies, of Jimmy Cagney and Henry Fonda and Sean Penn, flashed through his mind as they walked onto death row.
Collier was in the last cell on the right, which necessitated walking by several cells with some of the hardest men he’d ever seen staring at him with open hostility. Collier was sitting on his bunk, reading a book when Jack approached. “Here’s your priest,” the guard announced gruffly.
The convict didn’t look up when the key turned in the lock and Jack entered. “Hello, James, I’m Father Shepard,” he said quietly.
“Most folks call me Sawyer,” the prisoner said with a soft Southern accent, his eyes still on his book. He was unshaven, with long, scraggly hair swept back off his face. When he finally looked up, Jack was struck by how emotionless he was. His face was a blank. There was no trace of either the hardened murderer or the charming ladies’ man. Nor did he seem like a man about to die in an hour.
“Would you like me to pray with you?” Jack asked, sitting down next to him.
“Sawyer” shrugged. He indicated the dinner tray. “It’s a real shame they couldn’t even get my last meal right,” he said, a humorous gleam in his eye. “Worst fuckin’ fried chicken I ever ate. And the peaches were canned.” He turned to meet Jack’s sympathetic gaze. “You ever eat a peach, preacher?”
“I’ve had my share,” Jack said, fully aware of what the man was really getting at.
“Isn’t that what you’d call forbidden fruit, Father?” Sawyer said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Is this what you really want to spend your last moments talking about?” Jack asked, trying to steer the conversation back to a more serious plane.
“It’s as good a topic as any. You think there’s peaches in heaven, Pops?”
“I couldn’t say,” Jack said, opening up his Bible. “Have you made your peace with God, James?”
“World of difference between peaches and peace, ain’t there?” Sawyer said, a wistful look in his eyes.
He glanced at the cell across from his and for the first time Jack realized its occupant was a woman. She was young and pretty with long, curly brown hair. She was leaning up against the bars, intently listening to their conversation. When she noticed Jack looking her way she mischievously pulled up her top and flashed him a bare breast as she blew a kiss his way.
Jack couldn’t help flushing, as Sawyer noticed when he turned his attention back to him. “You have your share of that?” Sawyer asked with a wicked laugh, leaning in closer. “I have, and brother, I don’t think heaven can compete.”
“Pleasures of the flesh won’t matter after you die,” Jack said. “Only your soul lives on. And didn’t you ask me here to tend to your soul?”
“I lost that a long time ago,” Sawyer said, his face growing hard. Jack saw a glimpse of the glowering criminal from the news. “I’m willing to bet you never met anyone more damned than me.”
Jack had no ready answer for that, and as he prepared one, he was distracted by a cry of pain from the female prisoner. “Sawyer, I’m going with you,” she yelled, and she thrust a wrist through the bars. Blood dripped from it.
The other prisoners started to yell and bang against their bars. The guard ran to her and Jack instinctively jumped up. He was stopped by something sharp held against his throat. He looked in surprise at Sawyer and here was the killer unmasked, his face full of deadly intent. “Move and I slit your throat,” Sawyer said, his voice low. “You’re going to get me out of here, so be a good boy and we’ll both live to see tomorrow.”
Jack nodded, his head swimming at the turn of events. Across the way, a grunt and a thud came from the other cell. The guard had opened the cell, but now he lay on the floor as the woman took his keys off his belt. She held them up triumphantly. She stopped only to bind her bleeding wrist, and then unlocked Sawyer’s cell. The other prisoners were in full cry now, demanding she release them too.
She looked at Sawyer and he nodded as he forced Jack to his feet, one hand twisting Jack’s arm behind his back, the other still holding the shiv to his throat. The woman hurriedly unlocked the other cells as an alarm started to sound. “Just split up,” she urged the other prisoners, who were high-fiving each other as they poured out of their cells.
Before they had made it halfway down the corridor, there was an armed guard pointing a rifle at them. “Let us through, or the preacher here is a dead man,” Sawyer yelled, pressing down on the blade until it drew blood. Jack gasped at the sudden, sharp pain.
“Drop it, Dawson,” the woman yelled at the guard, a nervous-seeming black man. “Or the priest gets his throat cut.”
“No fucking way, Kate,” the man yelled back.
Sawyer again put pressure on the blade until Jack cried out.
He saw the guard waver. Dawson closed his eyes briefly, and then he lowered the rifle. He put his hands out to indicate he was backing down.
“Hand it over,” Kate demanded, and he did, after a moment’s hesitation. By now, an earsplitting siren was sounding through the prison.
Sawyer and Kate started to run, dragging Jack along with them. The other prisoners had split up, as Kate had ordered, and they heard shots being fired behind them as they ran. When they rounded the corner, there was the warden, with a bullhorn.
“Give it up, Collier,” the man barked. “You’re never getting out of here.”
“Oh, but I am,” Sawyer insisted, pulling Jack tighter against him.
Kate pointed the rifle at Jack’s head and he instinctively closed his eyes and began praying. He felt that his knees might give out, if he hadn’t been held up by Sawyer. He hated that he was so scared, hated that there was nothing he could do.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” Kate shouted. “I’ll do it. I’ll fucking do it. You can go ahead and shoot us down here, but we’re talking this fucking priest with us!”
There was a lot of yelling back and forth, but finally the warden started talking terms. “What do you want?” he asked, putting down the bullhorn.
“We want a car. Full tank of gas. We don’t want to be followed,” Kate said. “If we even think we see a police car or a helicopter, you’re going to find the priest in pieces.” Jack’s stomach churned. He was afraid he was going to be sick. The knife at his throat never wavered and he felt its scrape as he swallowed hard.
Tense negotiations followed, and then all too soon, they were walking outside, where a car waited. Jack was walked helplessly by Officer Locke, who looked on grimly, his hand poised over his service revolver.
Kate noticed the officer and stopped. "Give me that gun," she said, pointing the rifle at his head. He froze, then relented and handed it over, handle first. She smiled, clearly enjoying the situation, and tucked the gun into the waistband of her uniform. She backed up to the car, scanning the crowd for signs of trouble.
Satisfied all was clear, Kate got into the car first, taking the driver’s seat. Sawyer forced Jack into the back seat, carefully blocking his own body with Jack’s so that no one could get a clear shot. And then the gate opened and they drove out. As they left the prison behind and no one followed, Jack felt his captors relax.
Sawyer still held the knife to his throat, but he eased up on his grip. “You OK, baby?” he asked. Kate reached back her hand in response, still keeping her eyes on the road as the car roared into the night. Sawyer kissed her hand and then kissed the bandage on her wrist that was seeping blood. When Sawyer turned back to look at Jack, there was blood on his lips.
“You’ve made your escape. Will you let me go, now?” Jack asked, trying to sound calm, but alarmed at how shaky his voice sounded.
“Not just yet, Pops,” Sawyer answered. “It ain’t over yet.”
(to be continued. and yes, it will get smutty.)