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BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD, 2/2

posted in 24_fanfic

Title: Brighter Days Ahead, Chapter 2
Characters: Jack/Sergei (OC)
Rating: PG
Summary: Post Day 6. Jack hangs out in Croatia
Disclaimer: 24 is the Property of the Fox Production Company.
A/N: Thanks to my beta, cybertoothtiger

That night it rained.

Rain was good: Rain filled the lakes and reservoirs and watered the fields. Most rain showers ended by morning and gave way to a lovely dawn.

Except in China. Sometimes when it rained they would take him outside.

Jack sat huddled against the head of his bed, hugging his knees. Despite the warmth of the summer night, he shivered. His heart thumped loudly.

This is stupid. It’s just rain.

He tried to do as Dr. Schreber had instructed: Breathe deeply, focus on his immediate surroundings.

Jack took note of each thing: his long toes dug into the smooth, firm surface of the mattress, not into a dirty concrete floor. The walls were a smooth off-white and decorated by a few watercolor paintings, not made of gray concrete. There were bars on the windows, but those were there to keep thieves out, not to keep Jack in. There was a pitcher of clean, lukewarm water on the bedside table. He was wearing a white t-shirt and pajama bottoms, not a filthy prison uniform. The sounds were different: The screams of the other prisoners and the harsh Cantonese dialect of the guards were gone, replaced by Sergei’s loud snoring from the room down the hall. Outside, Jack could hear a few drunken revelers making their way home. Sometimes (but not tonight) there was the sound of vigorous lovemaking coming from Sergei and the girlfriend who sometimes stayed overnight.

The sound of rain was the same.

Jack turned on the light and pulled a book from his bag. The Two Towers, by JRR Tolkien:

“Oh, but you are alone. Who knows what you have spoken to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all your life seems to shrink, the walls of your bower closing in about you, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?”

This wasn’t helping.

What Jack really needed were some of his textbooks from his Master’s degree reading list. Dissertations on the survivors of Nazi concentration camps, Russian Gulags and Viet Cong POW camps. There have been many studies of how former prisoners fared once their ordeal was over. Some people rebuilt their lives, had families and careers, contributed to the world. Others were permanently traumatized and unable to function. Or, they couldn’t abandon their identity as victims and were too attached to their wounds.

Jack didn’t want to be that way.

He remembered reading that it was difficult to predict, in advance, who would thrive and who wouldn’t. Resilience was impossible to quantify. Only the passage of time could make that determination.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had been a diagnosis that was very much in vogue amongst psychiatrists in recent years. It was a convenient label applied to almost every solider or prisoner who had difficulty coping. Schreber had told Jack that he didn’t fit the typical profile of PTSD, but warned him that it could take months or years for the symptoms to manifest themselves.

Rest. Eat. Exercise. Of Shreber’s prescription, rest was proving the most difficult part of the equation to fulfill.

It didn’t matter. Jack could easily go two days without sleeping. He had done it many times.

He pulled a sweatshirt over his t-shirt and headed down to the kitchen. He wasn’t hungry, he just needed to get out of his room, put another storey between him and the rain.

He was annoyed to find Sergei in the kitchen. Jack wanted to be alone.

“You can’t sleep?” Jack asked.

Sergei shrugged. “I take nap in afternoon. But you, Jack. Another night with no sleep. The doctor give you pills. You should take.”

“I’m fine.”

“Then I make coffee.”

A few minutes later Sergei poured espresso into two tiny cups, because only American barbarians drank coffee from a mug. Jack noticed that Sergei poured a capful of liquor into his own cup.

Jack wondered whether this was cause for concern. On the surface, Sergei seemed well adjusted, outgoing and happy. Yet, he obviously had trouble sleeping. And he drank too much.

This is Eastern Europe. Everybody drinks too much. Don’t be so judgmental.

The two men sat at the kitchen table.

“So how long has it been? Four months? Five?” Sergei asked.

“Almost six.”

“Well. Then. Of course you do not sleep.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I have ways of making you talk.”

Sergei wasn’t kidding. In his day, he had been a master interrogator. He never tortured his suspects. Instead, Sergei used his unassuming appearance and friendly personality to gain a suspect’s trust. He would form a relationship. Sergei had prided himself on obtaining excellent intel without ever harming a hair on a suspect’s head.

Personally, Jack found Sergei’s methods insidious. And his interrogations took too long. Jack preferred to throw a few punches, make a few threats, and have the interrogation done with.

“Damn you,” Jack whispered.

“Tell me one thing. Just one. Then, I leave you alone. For tonight.”

Jack stared into the cup of his now cooling coffee. “Fine. When I was in China, there was this one guard. He was young. Just a kid. He would bring me extra rice. At first I wouldn’t eat it. I thought it was one of Cheng’s ploys. But he still kept bringing me the goddamn rice. Even after I refused to talk. To anyone.”

“So you ate the rice.”

“Yeah. It probably kept me in better shape than I would have been. I didn’t know why the he did it. And I didn’t ask. If the kid was acting on his own, he was taking a huge risk.”

“Some people are just good.”

“Later, the day after I returned to LA, Division found me and brought me in. They wanted to know if I talked, if I gave up the name of an undercover agent. They had me cuffed to a chair. Burke was about to give me a shot. But the agent who secured me slipped me the key.”

“He knew that it was wrong. So he took risk for you. You are so cynical. Humanity is not all bad. Have some faith.”

“I’m trying.”

“Tomorrow, the sun will shine. You will go for swim. You will tease pretty woman on beach. You will wash my dishes.”

“I can’t wait.”

“Listen. The rain. It has stopped.”

Yes. The rain had stopped. It was safe now.

“Thanks for the coffee. I think I’ll go back to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.” Jack stood up and headed for the stairs.

“There are brighter days ahead for you, Jack. For all of us.”

“Yeah, Sergei. Whatever you say.”

Jack returned to his room, where a few hours of peaceful sleep awaited.

END