Characters: Jack, Sayid
Note: A revision of a scene from “White Rabbit." Written for "Masks" prompt at lostfichallenge. I know it's not the fic anyone voted for me to write (or the one I originally planned to write) but it wanted to be written first!
This place was treacherous, even more so when wandering off alone. Sayid could take care of himself but Jack ... it was only with the greatest of luck that Sayid had found him dangling on the side of a cliff in time to save him from falling to his death.
They collapsed onto the dirt, both spent from the effort of pulling Jack back from the edge of oblivion. Jack started to laugh from the sheer relief but there was a hysterical note in his laughter that troubled Sayid.
Jack was exhausted. They all were. No one had gotten a decent night’s sleep since crash landing here, but he’d been watching Jack, watched him push himself to the brink and beyond. And now he’d nearly gotten himself killed, running wild through the jungle, for reasons he wouldn’t confide to Sayid.
They sat by the fire Sayid had made, the warmth of the firelight making the shadows of this strange place seem a little less threatening. Jack barely looked at him, his thoughts elsewhere. When he finally glanced up, it was with a guilty frown, as if indulging in private contemplation was something to be ashamed of.
“How are they? The others.”
“They're thirsty. Hungry. Waiting to be rescued.” Sayid looked meaningfully at him. "And they need someone to tell them what to do.”
Jack’s frown deepened. He looked defeated, hopeless. “I don't know how to help them. I'll fail, I'll... I don't have what it takes.”
“Of course you do,” Sayid insisted. Jack shook his head, unconvinced. Sayid marveled at how Jack had so quickly earned the survivors’ trust. They’d all begun to turn to Jack for answers that went far beyond any medical expertise. He was a natural leader, only he didn’t realize it.
Sayid was skilled at manipulation, at making men and tools bend to his will or break in the trying, but he couldn’t lead anyone. No one here would follow him, even if he had a mind to try.
He’d known men like Jack in the Republican Guard who burned bright and hot on zeal and self-sacrifice. Men like that never lasted long before burning out or getting themselves killed in some spectacularly foolish way, but Sayid couldn’t help but admire whatever drove Jack. The man was locked inside his head, helping everyone but confiding in no one. Clearly, he needed a friend, or at least an ally.
“It is easy to get lost out here,” Sayid began, not entirely sure what he was going to say, or if it was worth saying. “If you ever need a guide, someone who can help you find a path ...”
Jack smiled, that odd, forced grin that seemed to mask his nervousness. “I don’t think you can help me find what I’m looking for.”
Sayid looked at him quizzically. “What is that?”
Jack looked past him, out into the jungle. “I wish I knew.”
The silence stretched between them, until Jack offered to take the first watch. When Sayid awoke, Jack was gone. He considered going after him, sure that he’d have to save his life once more.
But he shook off the urge, convincing himself that Jack needed to find his own way.
When Jack returned to camp, the fear and uncertainty he hadn’t bothered to hide from Sayid were gone. The group gathered around Jack, greeting him like a returning hero.
Sayid crossed his arms, suppressing a smile. Jack didn’t need to be told that leaders have to maintain the illusion of control, even if they’re falling apart inside.
Maybe Jack was falling apart and maybe he wasn’t, but no one need ever know that.