Pairings: Mostly gen, but faint Jack/Shannon, Jack/Sarah
Summary: Jack's part of both stories, responsible for both outcomes.
Note: Belated birthday fic for eponine119, without whom, LJ, and Lost fandom, would be a lot poorer.
Jack faces this kind of impossible decision every day: two shattered bodies lie side by side on gurneys and he can only save one. In this case, his decision's been made for him: The man stopped breathing at the site of the accident, but there’s still a chance he can save the other victim.
The team swings into action on the one that’s still breathing, a blonde woman, and Jack, to be honest, forgets the other patient even exists, the sound of the nurse announcing the time of Adam Rutherford’s death just part of the ever-present chaos he’s learned to tune out.
The woman is stabilized and right before she’s transferred to ICU, Jack somehow hears her whispered wish when no one else does. Even after he’s seen countless other patients that day, he’s still thinking of Sarah, the woman who wants to dance at her own wedding.
His shift is over and as he walks down the nearly deserted hallway towards the desk to sign out, a tall, thin woman approaches him unsteadily. She'd be pretty -- blonde, brown eyes, built like a dancer -- but for the mascara smeared blackly down her checks and eyes that are puffy and red from crying. “It was you,” she says, pointing an accusing finger at him.
“Excuse me?” He’s tired, too tired for some sort of scene, which this is clearly going to be, whether he’s really the person she’s looking for or not.
“You’re the one who decided not to treat my father. You’re the one who let him die.”
He frowns at her, mentally reviewing all the cases he’s had today. “I’m not sure who you mean...” he begins, looking around for security.
“You don’t even remember him!” Her voice rises in indignation. “Adam Rutherford. He was hit by an SUV....”
It all comes back to Jack now. He calmly recites the particulars, which she has surely already heard. “Yes, I examined him. I’m so sorry. He had stopped breathing at the scene of the accident. He’d been down for some time by the time they brought him here. He was already gone. There was nothing more we could do for him.”
Her chin wobbles. She’s trying hard not to cry again. “Someone told me you’re the one who decided he was gone, that you wanted to work on the woman who ran into him instead, just because she was young and blonde and pretty!”
Her voice has grown louder and more shrill and now other people in the hallway -- a nurse hurrying past, an older patient slowly shuffling in slippers -- are stopping to look.
“Who told you that?” Jack is stunned that anyone would impart such information to a patient’s family.
“So you don’t deny it?” She says with a touch of triumph, stepping closer to him. Jack quietly signals the nurse, who nods and mouths the word, “Security.”
Jack turns his full attention back to the woman ... and realizes she’s really still a girl, probably no more than twenty. She has a little girl’s quaver in her words, a little girl’s need to be comforted underneath her angry bravado.
“He was already gone,” Jack says again, more firmly this time, hands on hips. “I am very sorry that we couldn’t save him, but his injuries were too severe. He could not be saved and there was someone else who could be. And that’s my job, to save who can be saved.”
Something in her face wavers, she’s suddenly not so sure. “But they told me...”
“I don’t know what anyone else told you, but I am telling you the truth.”
She bites her lip and turns away, crumpling into herself. Without thinking it through, Jack reaches out to her and pulls her against his chest as she dissolves into angry, hiccuping sobs. A security officer has finally arrived and Jack shakes his head.
He’s never had to deal with anything like this, but he knows, instinctively, that the girl just needed an outlet, and in blindly seeking someone to blame, found him. She’s just about cried out now and as she pulls away from him, her head hangs down so that he can barely see her face.
“I’m sorry,” she mutters, clearly regretting her outburst, and, with a last, wild-eyed look back at Jack, runs down the hall.
Jack operates on Sarah. He saves her. She’s able, miraculously, to walk again. She’ll be able to dance at her own wedding, except that her fiancé is long gone. Jack feels the pull towards her. It’s inevitable. He’s never believed in fate, but this feels, somehow, meant to be. She makes him smile. She adores him. When he looks at her, he sees his greatest success, his incredible triumph against the odds. When she looks at him, her eyes shine. He’s her hero, uncomfortable as he is with that term.
He knows he’s going to ask her to marry him and nothing’s ever felt so right in his life. But he’s not sure, why then, he attends the funeral for Adam Rutherford. He watches, from a respectful distance, as the girl, now somber and reserved in head-to-toe black, throws a handful of dirt on the coffin. Her hair is brushed neatly and pulled back from her face, her minimal makeup perfect. Her face is blank, showing none of the fury and grief from that day at the hospital. She looks both more grown-up and younger at the same time; he can’t explain it.
She happens to glance his way once and her set expression crumbles. This was a mistake, he thinks, as she stares at him with alarm. She ducks her head and when she looks back up, she’s biting her lip, doubt overcoming her surprise. She nods, once, in his direction, not quite smiling, but, he thinks, just acknowledging his presence. A relative, probably a brother, is pulling her into an embrace and Jack takes it as his cue to leave.
Jack walks back to his car. When that girl looks at him, she doesn’t see a hero, but the man who failed her when she needed him most. Neither one is really the truth, he thinks as he sits behind the wheel, looking back at the grave site. He’s not a hero and he's not a complete failure. He just does the best he can. Fate decides the rest. Except he doesn’t really believe in fate.
Two cars collided: one patient was saved, the other died. It happens every day and yet now Jack feels like he’s part of both stories, responsible for both outcomes.
He’s going to ask Sarah to marry him tomorrow night, he decides as he turns the key in the ignition. He ignores the tightness in his chest as he drives off, tries to forget the girl by the grave.