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The Third Time

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His eyes were pale blue and wide as the sky. Jackson fell to the ground, shivering and stumbling, the muscles in his back jumping when John tried to turn him over.

"Sorry." Jackson muttered, his hands clutching at John's shirt, surprisingly strong. He was twitchy, jumping at sounds that John couldn’t hear, staring at things John couldn’t see. There was blood on his cheek, but John couldn’t find the wound. "Sorry, sorry, sorry--"

"Forget it," John said, checking his pulse. It was too fast, barely there.

"Sorry." Jackson says again, eyes squeezed shut.

-

The third time they toss Jackson back into the cell, he doesn't move, just lies on the ground in a tiny, broken heap, barely breathing in soft, hiccuping sobs.

"Hey," John said, and maybe he's trying to distract himself from the pain in his head or the sticky, damp warmth of blood down his left arm. Maybe he just wants to make sure that Jackson isn't going to die on him like Williams did.

"--fucked up." Jackson said, breath catching. "Oh, god, oh god, oh ---" and then he breaks off into unintelligible babble, phrases repeating often enough for John to deduce that the other man is talking in a language he doesn't recognize.

"Jackson," John said, but the other man ignored him, or couldn't hear him at all.

One of the words that Jackson keeps saying, mumbling it over and over again, pronounced carefully over a swollen lip and the blood in his mouth, is "Sha're." John thinks that maybe, he's heard it before.

-
   
The third time Jackson stops breathing, John shouts himself hoarse in between compressing the other man’s chest, forcing air into his lungs over and over again. Maybe it was John’s imagination, but he could feel Jackson’s lips beneath his, cooling, stiffening. He wanted to pull away, wanted to get himself away from Jackson’s corpse, but even more than that, he wanted Jackson to stay alive, dammit.

Ignoring the tears running down his face, John forced another lungful of air into Jackson’s lungs. “Breathe, god damn it,” He said.

-

The third time the small, dark-haired woman walked into the cell, Jackson was unconscious in the corner.

“Please.” John said. The guards were holding him back, chaining him to the wall. The woman ignored him, went straight to Jackson. She worked quickly, efficiently, re-setting bones, wiping up blood, and checking lacerations.

“Please.” John said, begging. She still didn’t look at him, but he could see her shoulders stiffen a little bit.

“You have to help us.” John said. “Please, god, you have to help – they’re killing him, don’t you see? He’s going to die, he’ll die and I’ll be alone, please, please don’t leave me alone.”

In another world, another life, he probably would have been ashamed of his begging, but he wasn’t doing it to save himself – mostly – he was begging because he didn’t want Jackson to die. Any amount of humiliation was worth it, if it stopped Jackson from dying.

John didn’t really remember why, all he knows is that Jackson’s the last living person on the planet who can talk to him in his own language, and without the other man, he won’t last another day without going insane.

-

The third time the woman came to their cell, pausing just outside; her eyes lingering on him, John allowed himself to hope.

-

She babbled at him, the first time she broke into the cell at some obscene hour in the morning. John woke up blearily, flailing about, making sure that Jackson was still breathing, and only then did he notice the girl.

Her hands were up, palms facing outwards, and she looked absolutely terrified, her voice getting higher and higher as she babbled. John saw the key in her hand and he really, really, really wanted to wrench it from her grasp, run outside and leave this prison, run all the way back to the ‘gate and maybe dial the Alpha site from there. For the first time, John allows himself to remember the address to the Alpha site – but then he remembers Jackson, alone in the corner, and even if John could overpower her and run off, he won’t leave Jackson alone here.

Jumpy and nervous, she slowly approached him, patted him on the shoulder. She gestured at Jackson, gestured some more, her lips moving in a quiet, meaningless babble the whole time. John wishes that these people, like so many others, spoke English. Instead, he stared at her, uncomprehending.

She let go of him, walked up to Jackson.

John tried to stay awake, to watch her to make sure she didn’t hurt the scientist, but he was too weak to stop her even if she’d wanted to. Jackson doesn’t wake up.

Shivering, John hoped that she wasn’t too late, that she would still be able to help – because if not – if not –

-

The second time she snuck into the cell, John wasn’t prepared. Jackson was feverish, his mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out. Sometimes, he opened his eyes and looked at John, but then his eyes would skim past him, as if he wasn’t even there.

“You need to help him.” John told her, as angry as he could be with a brand-new concussion and a broken rib. “Help him, or he’s going to die.”

She turned to him and said something, her eyes dark and sad in the poor lamplight.

“I don’t understand you.” John mumbled. “I can’t understand anything you say, just help him, okay? I don’t want him to die – he has to stay alive until they come to rescue us. Just. Until they find us, okay? Just keep him alive.”

She shook her head.

-

The third time she returned to the cell, it wasn’t night time and she didn’t sneak in.

John had no idea what the girl had done – it had been something, though, because she arrived with servants and Doctors – real, honest-to-god Doctors, with bleached-white robes and sterilized instruments.

There was a real plaster-type cast put over broken bones, and strange, chalky pills that John was forced to swallow, but he didn’t complain or even fight because they were mostly crowding around Jackson, feeding him pills and tinctures and humming softly to themselves.

And then they took Jackson away.

-

There was a blur of noises and light – days or weeks went by, John didn’t really care which. John woke up screaming, and he shouted until the guards came into his cell and he yelled when they beat him and he screamed when they stopped and he screamed until his voice gave out and then he cried until it was time to sleep again, and when he woke up, he screamed.

Somewhere in that time, a pair of kind dark eyes came and tried to talk to him, but John ignored them, huddled into his corner, and screamed and screamed and screamed.

-

“It’s okay.”

John stopped screaming, because those were the first words he’d heard in forever that made sense, and now he knew that he was insane.

“It’s okay, John.”

He squeezed his eyes shut, bit down on his lip. It wasn’t okay, he was insane – and that meant he’d never get home.

“John.”

And when John opened his eyes, Jackson was standing outside his cell – guards on either side of him, looming menacingly with their primitive guns and their sharp knives, and Jackson looked terribly alive.

-

The third time Jackson visited him in the cell, John finally spoke to him. “You died.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, I saw you. You died and they took you away.” John said, firmly.

“They took me to a hospital. I wasn’t dead.” Jackson responded.

Mulling this over, John decided to believe him. After all, if he was insane, he’d rather be the kind of insane who still has their friends around them.

-

The third time Jackson shows up with his eyes almost black, pupils so dilated he’s walking in the dark and flinching at shadows, John realizes that there’s more going on than he’s being told.

“What is it?” He asked, seeing the way Jackson stares, terrified and enthralled, at a spot on the wall.

“She…” Jackson shuddered, looking afraid. “I don’t want to talk about it. Are you okay? I tried to make them stop… tried to make them stop…”

“I’m fine.” That was a lie, of course, but John was pretty good at lying, so Jackson didn’t even blink at it. “Don’t worry about me – can you get out, can you escape?”

Jackson stared at him, bleakly. “There is no escape.” He said. “She’ll find me, no matter where I go.”

-

The third time Jackson arrives at the cell and just sits on the floor, leaning against the bars, John wanted to break through the rusted metal and take him away.

“Hold on, there, buddy.” He said, instead, leaning against the bars on the inside. He could feel the warmth of Jackson’s shoulders, if he concentrated.

“I wish I was in there, with you.” Jackson said.

-

The next time Jackson visited him, he stops in front of the bars, barely an inch away. “God, I’m sorry.” He said. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?” John asked. “What are you sorry for?”

Jackson pushed a hand through the bars, wrapped it around the back of John’s neck. He pulled him closer, until they were breathing each other’s air, and then Jackson fucking kissed him, on the mouth, kissed him like he’d been waiting a long time to do it, like it meant something – like this was his last chance.

“What the fuck?” John demanded, when Jackson turned around and walked away without another word. “Jackson, what the fuck? Where are you going? What are you going to do?”

-

The second time Jackson tried to kiss him, John almost thought about resisting – except he hadn’t seen the other man in days (or was it forever?) so instead, he held on to him, kissed him back. It was a raw, desperate, hungry kiss, all lips and teeth and tongue, and John could feel Jackson’s fingers digging into his shoulder, hard enough to hurt, but he didn’t really care about the pain.

-

The third time, Jackson moaned, softly, sounding broken, before pulling away. John opened his eyes and stared at the other man, hard, but Jackson just let go of him and gripped onto the bars, tight, like he’d fall down if he didn’t hold on to something.

“Jackson –” he tried to say, except Jackson shuddered and bit down on his lower lip, and John shut up because he thought Jackson was going to cry.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Jackson muttered to himself. “I’m sorry, sorry, sorry –”

You don’t have anything to be sorry for, John thought.

And then Jackson said “Jack,” really quietly, like it was a secret, and then John saw tears running down his face.

After Jackson left, John felt his own face, and was surprised to discover that it was wet, too.

-

Jackson walks into the cell that night, the guard locking door behind him. John stayed quiet in the corner, waited for Jackson to come lie down beside him. He rolled over onto his side, stretched out a hand, and closed his eyes when he felt Jackson reach out to grasp it.

They both stayed silent, and when John fell asleep that night, he felt almost safe.

-

When the sun rose, Jackson was still there, and the guards opened the cell and dragged him away.

-

The next night, Jackson returned.

“You can call me Daniel, you know.” He said, breaking the silence.

John curled himself around the other man, tucking his chin into the hollow of his throat, wrapping an arm around his chest, letting warmth leech into his skin.

“We’re going to get out of here, Daniel.” He said, aloud.

“No, we won’t.” Daniel replied, gently.

-

 The third time Daniel talks to him in a language other than English, John wants to cry. Instead, he concentrates, because this is a language he know – this is something that makes sense – he concentrates and shapes the words with his mouth. He’d never been more grateful in his life that he’d picked up a few words in Arabic than when he realized that Jackson was going to get him out.

Midnight. He whispered to himself, knowing that nightfall isn’t that far off. I can make it to midnight.

-

The third time Daniel spent the night in the cell, wrapped around John, he kissed him, soft and thorough.

John opened his mouth and let him, sucked on his tongue and arched up into his touch, and when Daniel slipped the key from a hidden pocket and hid it in the waistband of John’s boxers, John didn’t make a sound.

-

When Daniel left in the morning, the look he sends back at John is so fucking sad that John wants to pull him back into the cell and kiss him.

-

Daniel doesn’t come back, the next day.

Or the next night.

-

Or the night after that.

-
The third day Daniel didn’t visit, John figured it out. Daniel expected him to just… leave, to walk out, to abandon him – here – just leave him with the –

John took a deep breath.

Then another.

Then he ate every scrap of food he could find in his jail cell, drank every drop of water even though he normally hoarded it, and then he took more deep breaths, until he was reasonably sure that the guard had left, and wouldn’t be back for another twenty minutes.

-

It was harder than he’d remembered, to kill a man with his bare hands.

-

“Come on, Jackson.” He snapped, when he finally broke into the room. Jackson was high on something, lying naked on the bed, bleeding from claw marks – or maybe nail marks – that covered his chest.

“Get up, Jackson!” He snapped.

It took a while for the other man to open his eyes. He mumbled something untelligble, and then repeated himself, slowly. “You’re… s’posed to call me Dan’l.”

“Get up, Daniel,” John said.

-

After all that time, it shouldn’t have been as easy as just walking out – and it wasn’t. John killed sixteen people before they escaped the huge, sprawling compound. Four more before they got to the ‘gate.

Maybe he was a little bit surprised when Daniel managed to keep up, panting loudly but otherwise mostly okay, his hands shaking when he took the gun away from one of the dead guards.

He was even more surprised to find a woman waiting for them at the gate, straight knee-length blonde hair falling down to her knees. The men around her are all guards, uniformed and impassive, but she stands in what looks like an evening gown, her ice-blue eyes fixed on Daniel.

John never actually heard what she said, because Daniel raised the gun in his still-trembling hands and shot her in the face.

-

After that, it’s as easy as walking through the gate.

They made it through to the alpha site.

-

Being back on base after three months captured off-world means a battery of psych evaluations followed by medical evaluations followed by orders to report to more of the same. John stumbled along blindly, allowing himself to be guided from office to office, examination to examination, and then he fell asleep on the couch and the therapist left him alone.

-

The third time Daniel knocked on his door, John decided not to ignore him, and opened it.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Daniel said, looking at John through his glasses

John didn’t remember the glasses, they must have been broken when they were captured. Three months without glasses, John thought, absently. He must have had a lot of headaches.

“Look…” Daniel looked around, and then stared at John. “Can I come in?”

“No.” John shook his head. He closed the door.

-

The third time John tried to close the door in Daniel’s face, Daniel just kind of shouldered it aside, stepped into the room, and kissed him.

It was a nice kiss, too, a little bit rough and Daniel smelled good, like wood smoke and soap and ink, so John grabbed him and kissed him back, because he wanted this.

“John,” Daniel said, breaking the kiss. His eyes were pale blue and as wide as the sky, and John could see so much sadness in them that he almost kissed the other man again.

“No.” John shook his head to clear it, and then stomped back to the door and threw it open. “Just, leave, okay?”

-

“The thing is,” John said, the third time Daniel managed to corner him and force him to talk. “The thing is…”

Daniel waited, but John didn’t know what else to say.

“If you don’t want to,” Daniel started

“It’s not that.” John said, “It’s not that at all. I mean, it wasn’t a lie, back, on the planet – I meant it.”

“Right,” Daniel said. He waited, expectantly, staring at John. “Then what is it?”

“The thing is,” John said. “I’m not Jack.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “I know.”