RATING: R - violence
DISCLAIMER: I own Shuang, but really, he's just an exchange student that I stole the name from. Everyone else belongs to Fox and the like.
CATEGORY: nothing graphic, but a little bit of torture, drama and angst thrown in for good measure
SUMMARY: "He couldn’t leave it. He couldn’t let them throw it to the ground like that and not try to get it back, not after all they’d been through together."
AUTHOR's NOTES: Inspired over the debate that has circulated around the necklace that Jack/Kiefer wears. Is it Jack's/Is it Kiefer's/What is it/What's it mean? I was tempted with some easier, perhaps more fitting medallions, but I knew of Joseph because he is the patron saint of fatherhood, social justice, honor, loyalty and yes, the great city of Louisville. I couldn't resist the irony. Hope you guys enjoy. And thanks as always to sardonicynic for her beta and assurances that this wasn't torture!pr0n.
He could feel his stomach recoil as Shuang’s fingers lightly brushed the hair on his chest. He closed his eyes – screwed them shut – and tried to breathe through his nose, concentrating on keeping his body still as he swung freely from the chain overhead.
After a moment, the contact was gone, but he could still feel the body heat – Shuang remained close and it made him nauseous.
Jack relented eventually, peering out through just a slit, and forced down a swallow when he saw that Shuang’s attention was not on his face, but somewhere below his chin. He opened his eyes as wide as the swollen lids would allow, glancing down momentarily before the pressure started to build behind his forehead.
“I have often wondered…what is this, Mr. Bauer?”
As he asked, Shuang looked up, still fingering the tiny medallion that hung from Jack’s neck.
Not expecting an actual answer, Shuang’s eyes narrowed slightly and, with a yank, he ripped the necklace from its hinge. He opened his palm, examining the worn, nearly-flat piece of metal he was holding.
The depiction on the front had almost rubbed away over the past twenty-five years of use, but the words inscribed in the back were still clear.
“St. Joseph. Pray for us,” Shuang read slowly, his tone holding a hint of amusement. He pushed a quick snort of laughter through his nose and gave Jack a disbelieving look. “Is your Saint Joseph with you while you are in your cell?” he taunted as he walked slowly around Jack’s hanging form. “Does he pray for you as you are here? With us? As you think about begging for mercy?”
In an instant, the smile was gone and Shuang’s fingers were knotted in the short rat’s nest of Jack’s hair. He pulled sharply, forcing Jack’s head back, toward his shoulder blades. “Was he praying for you when you were ordered to raid our consulate and murdered our consul? Will he pray for you when you tell us everything we want to know?”
Jack’s eyes were still open, staring blindly at the ceiling in a white haze of panic. Shuang’s mood swings held him off-balance…which was part of the reason why Jack assumed they kept him on.
As an interrogator, his methods were barbaric – there was no skill involved and anyone off the street could do what he did. But his brutality, his instability was also what made him effective. It was hard to plan for anything, hard to prepare oneself when Shuang was running the show.
With a forceful shove, Jack’s head flew forward, his jaws snapping shut as his chin struck his chest. He heard Shuang’s deep, rumbling laughter from somewhere behind him and tried to brace himself for a blow that never came.
Instead, the pendant appeared slowly in front of his face. Shuang was holding it above his head, letting it rest gently on the tip of Jack’s nose.
“I don’t think your Joseph or your God is listening,” he whispered, his breath hot and sour as a new stench assaulted Jack’s nostrils.
He struggled to pull his mind away from Shuang’s proximity and stared at the dull chip of metal swaying before his eyes. Teri had given it to him a little after he had joined the Army, saying that Joseph’s patronage fit Jack perfectly. They weren’t churchgoers, but with Teri coming from an Irish family, the deeply-entrenched devotion to Catholicism would never really go away. He remembered when she’d come up behind him, almost like Shuang was right then, and slipped it over his neck as he was reading the newspaper at the kitchen table.
”I got this for you today. I want you to wear it.”
“But I’m Lutheran.”
She kissed him above his ear and tucked it under his collar, patting the material of his t-shirt where it laid next to his dog tags. He had barely taken it off since.
Stop it. Don’t do this – don’t bring her here.
He gritted his teeth, wishing he could make himself turn the thoughts off at will.
Shuang pulled the pendant away with a great deal of care, his flair for the dramatic taking hold as he slowly stalked around to face Jack once more. He held the chain in one hand, cradling the medallion in the palm of his other, looking at it appraisingly.
“You think I don’t know you, Mr. Bauer,” Shuang started, keeping his eyes trained on the necklace, head tilted to the side in feigned interest. “You fancy yourself an enigma with your silence – a real American hero.”
Jack kept his eyes trained just behind Shuang’s left elbow, on the one-way mirror running along the far wall where he knew Cheng was watching the two of them.
“You know what I think?”
The inflection in his voice prompted Jack to turn his head, to look Shuang in the eye as he spoke.
“I think,” he stated slowly, pausing for effect as he lifted the chain once more, “that this means a great deal to you. Is that a correct assessment?”
Jack tried to swallow, but his mouth…it felt like he was forcing dried leaves down his throat.
The twinkle returned to Shuang’s eyes and Jack felt the spit fleck his cheek. The medallion spun round and round at the end of the chain, swinging back and forth from the quick burst of air and saliva.
He watched the necklace as it went flying in the air, tossed carelessly over Shuang’s shoulder and landing with a tinny ‘clink’ some ten feet away.
Jack bypassed Shuang and let his eyes fall to the floor. It was just a piece of metal – it shouldn’t have hurt that much, but it did. It didn’t have any great stories like some police badges had – it had never deflected a bullet and saved his life, it had never been used as a reflection plate to signal a rescue from the sky.
But he’d held onto it, kissed it and thought of Teri when there were bullets raining down from the heavens.
It felt like hours had passed, but he’d learned to ignore those tricks of the mind because they had only led to disappointment so far. He landed on the floor in a heap, fire spreading down his arms and throughout his body. They rarely tried to make him walk anymore – it was a waste of everyone’s time – so he forced himself to open his eyes, to watch, to time his move just…right…
He couldn’t leave it. He couldn’t let them throw it to the ground like that and not try to get it back, not after all they’d been through together.
He caught a rifle butt to the shoulder and it knocked the air from his lungs in a sharp grunt, but he managed to close his hand around the scrap of metal, locking it into his fist before they reached to lift him once more.
Shuang’s abrupt bark caused both soldiers to freeze in their tracks and Jack knew that he’d been caught. Fumbling to reach his mouth, his lips clamped shut just as the fingers began grabbing at his face, scrabbling for some sort of purchase on the cracked and bruised skin. Shuang tugged at Jack’s growing beard, skin burning in protest as strands of hair were ripped away, but Jack clenched his jaws and fought back the dread as the sound of boots came echoing up the hallway. Hands snatched at him, pinching his face and Shuang was still shouting, curse-laden warnings coming with every breath, but he held, curling his arms around his face as tightly as he could manage.
Something hot – so hot it felt cold – pressed firmly against the sole of his foot; his eyelids flew open and his jaws relaxed for barely an instant.
It was all they needed.
He tried to swallow it, to force it down before they could reach it, but the grimy metal wouldn’t travel down his bone-dry throat. Their dirty fingernails cut into his gums and scraped the roof of his mouth as they each grabbed where they could to keep his jaws from snapping shut.
Coughing weakly, Jack curled onto his side after they let him go.
Back in his cell, he didn’t close his eyes or even think about sleeping for a very long time. He could only focus on the missing weight over his heart.