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It wasn’t quick.

It had been for Nate, he knew that. He saw it in every movement, every little twist and tell and motion.

Nathan had lost everything that day. The day they closed the doors to the bunker. His father, his found family. What else had he left to hold onto?

Octavia, the last of the 100.

And Jackson, someone who had been there when they thought they were all going to die.

“That’s why I love you.”

The words had been a punch in the gut, stolen his breath. He could still remember the utter clarity with which Nate had said those deceptively simple words, the sheer belief behind his eyes.

The kiss that followed had been desperate, pushing and pulling, a physical outlet for the horror of the hours gone before.

And Jackson tried to fall that hard as well. Tried to bundle the constant terror and uncertainty and anxiety all up together, tried to channel it to something good, something honest. Tried to just let go, and let Nathan catch him.

Catch him, as their microcosm of a world descended into hell around them. As Octavia became Blodreina, as Abby took yet another pill, as Kane distanced himself.

Sometimes, he thought he had made himself fall. Fall, and love. Fall, and belong.

But sometimes it felt like he was standing beside his own body, just watching from the outside as his puppet went through the motions. As he was a good friend to Abby, as he patched up wounds and mended bones, as he disposed of the bodies from the fighting pit.

And every night, he would lie next to Nathan. He would match his breathing – one, two, three, and everything is okay, everything is fine, you just need to wake up tomorrow and do it all again – and curl up in his arms – this is fine, this is good, just one more night – and pretend like he knew what he was doing.

But he didn’t.

He couldn’t.

Nathan was so confident, a fire burning as bright as Octavia, as strong as Kane, as loyal as Abby.

And Jackson just…was.

Nathan belonged. He found people and he threw himself to them with everything he had. First the 100, then Mount Weather, then Skaikru, and now Blodreina and Wonkru. He made them his family, gave them a piece of himself.

As he had given a piece of himself to Jackson.

Stand in the shadows, keep your head down, do your job, be nearby but don’t get in the way, don’t get hurt, don’t commit, just do what they need you to do.

He couldn’t breathe.

Shadows don’t breathe.

Echoes don’t breathe.

Reflections and ghosts and wisps and knells.

They don’t breathe.

They don’t break.

Until they do.

“Nathan!”

Jackson didn’t even recognise his own voice as it tore from his throat.

“What the hell happened?” Abby asked, her voice incredulously, professional, edged with the pills but in control. She could move. She could look at the situation objectively. She could take control.

She wasn’t frozen. She wasn’t shaking. She wasn’t watching her whole life disappear before her eyes.

Someone was holding onto him. Kane? No.

Someone shaking him, telling him to calm down, to get it together, to get a goddam grip because Miller needs you to not fall apart right now. Someone was wrenching his gaze away from the bloody scene to focus on them.

Not Kane.

Octavia. Not Blodreina, but Octavia. Nathan’s friend, Bellamy’s sister, one of the last of the 100.

Her eyes were older than her years.

Jackson wasn’t sure why he noticed that.

She spoke softly, calmly, lulling. Oddly detached, as if nothing about this horror was unusual.

Because it’s not anymore. Because this is normal now. This is the bunker. This is Wonkru.

“Someone tried to kill me. Miller got in the way before I even saw it coming. He took a sword to the gut, but he got the guy first,” she said the last part almost proudly. She took Jackson’s shaking hands, and he swallowed harshly. “He needs you. He needs you to be your best.”

Breathe, breathe. Just breathe.

This is why you don’t get involved.

This is why you stay on the edge.

This is why you don’t fall in love.

Abby asked him once, after ALIE, why he had taken the chip. He told her it had been forced on him, that they had cornered him, wrenched his head back and held his nose until he swallowed the pill down dry.

Lie.

In truth, he had been sick of feeling empty. Of looking out from the shadows and drifting along as the world got steadily darker.

The worst thing is not to be alone, but to be on the edge. To give your heart and your head and your body to be what people need, what people want from you. To be a puppet on the string of their reality.

To be alone is to be independent, to be yourself. To be on the edge is to be a shadow, a reflection of the real people.

ALIE hadn’t helped. She offered numbness.

And Jackson was already numb. He had been numb since he watched his mother die with a wrenching pain, gasping her last tiny staccato breaths in his arms.

But this wasn’t numb. Not right now, not looking at Nathan, not the adrenaline frantically pumping his heart to the point of bursting, not the sick feeling in his stomach, not the knowledge of oh god I can’t lose him.

The next few hours existed as a series of snapshots in high, sharp colour.

Blood. In a myriad of shades.

At some point, long after the surgery – if anything could be called that in these conditions – had been finished, Jackson sat contorted awkwardly in a chair next to Nathan’s bed. He drifted on the edge of consciousness, hand loosely entwined with Nathan’s.

Fingers twitched, and Jackson jerked awake. His muscles protested at the sudden movement, and he blinked rapidly to clear his head as he leaned forward, “Nate? Nathan, can you hear me?”

“Jax?” It was barely a mumble, but it was there, and Jackson could breathe. Nathan groaned, opening his eyes as he twisted slightly towards Jackson’s voice. He grimaced, “Ow.”

A laugh bubbled in Jackson’s throat, uncontrollable, and he gently pulled Nate’s hand to his lips, lightly brushing his knuckles with a kiss. “Yeah. Stab wounds hurt.”

Nathan blinked sluggishly, reaching a finger to trace lightly down Jackson’s face, from temple to cheekbone to lip. “Thanks for patching me up.”

And then something just… hit.

His throat was closing up, sticky, burning. His stomach coiled, his skin prickling and his lungs tight, too tight. He couldn’t breathe, but this was different. So different. This was too much, this was why he stayed on the edge, this was why he never let himself fall.

Because if you fall, if you step out of the shadows, if you let yourself love…

Then you have something to lose.

And he couldn’t lose Nathan.

Nathan’s brow twitched, his eyes already clearing from the drugs he’d been under. “Hey… hey, you okay?”

Jackson tried to speak, he tried to reassure Nate because seriously out of the two of them, Nathan was the one who’d just been stabbed. But he could only shake his head, lips pressed tightly, fingers contracting vice-like around Nate’s as his whole body shook, tears falling unbidden.

Mindful of Nathan’s injury, Jackson bent and kissed him desperately. He wanted to catch hold of him, to keep them there, in that moment, forever. Nathan’s hand weakly cupped the back of Jackson’s head as he kissed back with equal passion.

They broke apart with a hair’s breadth between them, foreheads resting together, and the words tumbled from Jackson’s lips for the first time, each syllable laced with a heady mix of disbelief and fear, certainty and confidence, “I love you…”

Nate had said those words to him so many times now, each time more vital than the last. And Jackson had always responded with a kiss, never able to let himself fall all the way.

It wasn’t until today, seeing Nathan like that, bleeding and urgent and visceral, a shadow of death hanging over him, that Jackson realised that he had fallen a long time ago.

Nathan’s eyes opened, and Jackson fell into them. His eyes were clear, full of love and understanding of the weight of trust, the risk of vulnerability behind Jackson’s confession.

“I love you too,” Nate said softly, tenderly. “And I’m not going anywhere, Jax, I promise. You’ve got me all the way.”

Jackson nodded jerkily, not trusting himself to say anything more. He felt exposed, raw, but at the same time, safe. He felt part of something. Was this what other people always felt like?

“C’mon,” Nathan said, tugging at Jackson’s arm. “You look worse than I feel. When was the last time you even slept?”

Jackson huffed a laugh, “I don’t remember. But if this is your way of asking me to get into bed with you when you got stabbed this morning, it’s not going to work. Octavia’s fine by the way, you saved her. Maybe try and do that without using your body as a shield next time?”

Nathan rolled his eyes, but the nonchalance of it was ruined with a wince. “Fine, then push up that bed a bit closer. And don’t tell me it’s not allowed, because as one of only two qualified doctors in this hellhole, you make the freaking rules.”

Jackson smiled softly, and obeyed without protest. The lights in the infirmary were dimmed, and there were only a couple of other minor overnight patients. As soon as he was lying down, he felt an unnameable exhaustion flood over him, as if he hadn’t stopped for years.

Maybe he hadn’t.

Dozily Nate reached out his hand, and Jackson rolled onto his side to take it, warm fingers catching to a gentle hold in the space between them.

Belonging.

Nathan.

Wonkru.

He had fallen all the way. Stepped from the edge, and into the fray.

No going back now. You’re not a shadow anymore.

So stay alive. Keep him alive.

Love.

Breathe.

Survive.

FIN