Lost in Time

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					Lost in Time By: Northern Wolf Winter 2008 Just a little winter project I‟ve been working on. I was inspired to write this one after watching Back to the Future for the hundredth time and the whole season four moving the island thing certainly helped. Please let me know what you think, reviews are greatly appreciated. Cheers! Prologue: "With Dignity" "Well, that's all for now. Study up over the brake and pay particular attention to the methodology involved with inserting a Swan-Ganz catheter into the femoral artery, but most importantly have a great holiday." Dr. Robert Hamill dismissed his med students with a nod that went unnoticed over the last scribbling pencils and chatter of elated students as they exited the lecture hall. "What, no big plans for your two whole weeks off Mr. Austen?" Aaron glanced up from his notebook, starring something with a pen before closing it. "I haven't really set out to do anything...just tonight really and Mom's for supper on Christmas day." The elderly doctor offered him a sympathetic smile and lowered his head. "He would have been proud you know," his voice was so low and roughened with age that Aaron had to strain in order to hear. His face hardened as he pushed himself up. "Yeah," it caught in the sandy haired man's throat. The room suddenly felt too warm and too closed in to even consider staying. He jerked his wrist in a tired wave, toting his bag over one shoulder as he trudged down the hallway toward the lobby. It was sad to see so many people in the hospital over Christmas. The quite rooms outside the I.C.U. and C.C.U. units were unavoidable, filled with teary eyed families that Aaron didn't look at, but tip-toed past. "You live with dignity, you sure as hell don't die with it." One of his professors had scolded them the first day they had all started med school. Aaron never liked Dr. Mccallum, the moody hepatologist was sarcastic, ill tempered, and everything else a doctor shouldn't be. He ducked out through the emergency department, pushing the big ambulance bay doors until the air that assaulted his nostrils was smoggy instead of sterile. His phone rang while he was sliding into his car, a dusty gray Volvo with a dent on the rear bumper. "Yeah, I know. I'm on my way, just a little late finishing up." He hung up, slipping the phone back in his pocket with a sigh. He really wasn't good at these kind of things.

He drove until the neon lights of the city were at his back and the road had turned into a wash of silt and alkaline dust in the wanning twilight. Aaron checked his watch, twenty minutes late, not too bad. He took a quiet breath, pulling his car in such that it shouldered the road where a trampled crop of grass ran laterally into the mounds of gravel and finer pieces of granite later on. The cliffs overhead were both jagged and massive in their grandeur, looming like towers over the earth below. Their callous, unforgiving gaze dominated the skyline. If he set his gaze higher he could see where the vastness of the ocean, like molten silver, stretched into a graying sky. There was no set point to form a horizon making it difficult to separate the water from the clouds. He inwardly squirmed, nodding his head this way and that, searching for something on the dull expense of sand where the red and black rocks jutted into the cold saltine froth. Aaron buttoned his jacket and ventured out onto the sand where the earth was wet and stuck to his shoes. He glanced forward, measuring the ferocity of the ocean with uneasy steps. "I was starting to think you weren't coming," a voice called from behind him. He whipped around, locking eyes with what he was sure was complete darkness. "You know what LA traffic is like even when it's not rush hour," he mused, stepping in the direction of the sound. Aaron reached for the mini-penlight in his pocket and flicked it on illuminating the area in a splash of LED light. "It's good to see you Liz," he said, now that he could finally see her face. "It's only been a few months," she frowned, rolling her eyes and hugging him none the less. "Funny, feels more like a year." Aaron shrugged out of the hug with a wary smile before leading the way down the beach. "That busy huh?" Elizabeth watched him drag his feet as he walked, his body lacking all its usual grace and agility as he trudged forward. "Haven't stopped since midterms. Whoever said med school was easy surely mustn't have finished." He yawned. "So, how are things at Princeton?" "Cold. Finals were postponed for a week due to a blizzard." The second year Archaeology major grinned. "Definitely worth the three days of coughing, sneezing, and sore throat it brought along with it." "You could have just gotten a flu shot," he teased just to watch her cringe. "You know damn well I don't like needles." "Yet you want to be a doctor someday." Aaron cocked an eyebrow. "How's that gonna work?"

"I'll get over it when I have too," Elizabeth assured boldly. "Just not right now...I..." He hushed her and slowed his pace pointing the icy blue light at an up thrust section of basalt with a plaque mounted across it's flat face. Aaron bent down to brush the mud off its ornate golden letters. In Loving Memory Jack Shephard Father, Doctor, Hero You will be forever missed. 1966 - 2007 He let his hand linger for only a moment, barely noticing Elizabeth squatting beside him in the sand. "I think he would have liked it here," the fair haired man whispered softly under the roar of the pounding surf that surrounded them. "I just wish that he'd stuck it out long enough to find out about you Liz, then maybe things would have been different." He instantly regretted it the moment he'd said it but she gazed at him sadly and shook her head. "It's alright Aaron, I know Mom found out she was having me the day he jumped off that bridge. Yes, of course I'm sorry we lost him, I know it hurts but I also know Mom, if she could do anything to save him she would have done it." Elizabeth Shephard looked hard at her Father's grave. She had memorized every inch right down to the last detail over the years. It never did get any easier, visiting a man that Aaron cared for like a father and she, well, she didn't know how to love a phantom. The first drop of rain told them it was time to leave. It was too dark for her to see what Aaron pulled beneath the folds of his coat and set down beside the rock, carved almost smooth by the waves. "Are you coming with me to see Mom?" She asked as they traced the path back. He hesitated, unsure if he wanted to be near his Mother on the anniversary of Jack‟s death. It was like those people he had passed by at the hospital, the ones he felt he had needed to stay away from. But this was his Mother. “Alright,” Aaron agreed. “She‟ll be glad to see you‟re home safe.” He took one last fleeting look at the spot where he estimated Jack‟s grave to be before turning and allowing his gaze to settle on the toxic neon lights of the city. One: "Freefall" Kate's house hadn't changed that much in Aaron's nineteen years of living there. Comfortable but not exceedingly lavish, it still had its well manicured gardens and pale golden trim that stretched to reach the black sky beyond it. The neighborhood was just as sleepy as it had always been with

upper-middle class families whom he'd no longer be able to name if his life depended on it; save for Mrs. Thomson who lived next door. The big hickory tree that he had fallen out of when he was kid still stood proudly on her front lawn. Elizabeth's Honda was parked outside of the garage as Aaron wheeled in behind it. He pocketed his keys and took his time walking up the path toward the house. Kate's purple begonias were in full bloom hanging from baskets on either side of the veranda. "You didn't have to wait for me to go in," he breathed when he noticed Elizabeth standing near one of the porch windows. "The door is locked and all the lights are off," she pouted. "I told Mom yesterday I'd be stopping by." "Strange for her." Aaron wasn't convinced. "Are you sure she isn't asleep or something?" "She's not answering her phone," Elizabeth waved her cell in front of his face. "She always answers." "I know," he agreed, sighing. "And today of all days." "You don't suppose she went to visit the grave?" She wasn't sure whether she was suppose to call him 'Dad' or just plain old 'Jack' so she didn't call him anything. "No," he shook his head, pressing his nose hard against the cold glass. "It hurts her too much, she wouldn't..." he stopped in mid-breath as he felt his stomach start to sink. "Get in the car Liz," Aaron leapt off the step and down the driveway before she could even think about questioning him. Numbly she followed, noting the fearful glint in his eyes as he practically dove inside his Volvo and slammed on the accelerator with the passenger side door still half hanging open. Across town, Kate stared warily into the city lights. The muscles across her shoulders tightened as she leaned forward, both hands balled into white knuckled fists that did little to help her maintain her ballance. She could hear the muted roar of traffic both beside and below her, unyielding as it slid by. Time itself seemed to be crawling. Kate bit her lip and shifted her gaze downward toward the thundering water. The canal was almost overflowing after the bout of record breaking rainfall that had troubled the city for almost a full two weeks. She watched the current swell, the black water thrashing like a caged lion through the low laying fog. It was enough to make her shuffle back a step and grab the railing out of instinct.

She could picture him doing it too. His body running on just share nerve alone as he pressed his entire back against the cold steel and shook a handful of tiny white pills from his pocket. Where he'd had the pills to give him strength she held a photograph, tattered and old from years of hiding in the back of her jewelery box. Somehow the magnitude of what she was about to do seemed almost trivial if it meant she got to see him again. The thought ghosted across Kate‟s mind with a sort of jerk that made her heart beat just a little bit faster. She whispered a silent apology to the wind, to Aaron, to Elizabeth. She really was sorry but she couldn't stay any longer. Jack had been right about her, she never stopped running. It hurt too much to stay. She loosened her grip on the rail again and let the wind ruffle her hair. If the circumstances were different she'd find it almost soothing. It represented a calling for freedom and hope. She wondered if he had felt the same way. Was he finally free from his alcoholic prison, from his grief and self hatred? The image of him, standing beside her and scolding her for coming after him played across her mind. It would be the last thought she ever had, she'd decided. His smile. Watery kneed she pushed herself forward before she lost her nerve, it felt so damn good to finally let go. Like the curtain dropping at the end of a play she was plunged into blissful darkness which was accompanied by a feral scream that did not come from her mouth as she felt her body being shoved back against the pavement. Then... more darkness. Elizabeth watched in horror as Aaron thrust himself out of the car in a mad dash toward the guardrail of the 6th Street Bridge. His body riveted forward, grabbing his mother in a vice grip and tossing her backwards with all his might. She hit the pavement with a thud. He didn't have enough momentum to keep himself from falling headlong into the canal bed below. Elizabeth screamed, close enough now to see the water, to pound the rail, to sob and run back to her Mother who wasn't moving under the flickering street lights above. The motorists around them were getting out of their cars, some hauling out cell phones while others were crouching down beside her and her Mother. She sobbed whole heartedly into Kate's chest, the older woman too out of it to know she had just lost one of the few precious things that she still had left to live for. Aaron hit the water with a gasp. His eyes were pinched shut as his arms flailed this way and that splashing forward then back in an attempt to keep his head above water. He opened his mouth, instantly regretting it, salty liquid rushing forward into his lungs and making him cough. He wheezed, sputtering and remembering that he could swim just fine. Wait. Salt water? Since when was the canal salty? Curiosity overcame fear and he cracked one eye open to find himself floating in a current of cerulean blue and choppy white caps. He could see a mass of wild green beyond the waves, then sand, clumped in a wide crescent that stretched for miles.

"Great, maybe this is what happens after you drop nearly fifty feet and crack your skull open," he muttered to himself. His heart was beating too fast and his breathing too harsh for his brain to allow his mind to think that he was dead. He still felt like he had jumped off a fifty foot bridge. Aaron raked his mind as he swam. Maybe he was in a coma and this was that tropical vacation he had always wanted? No. He went through the Glasgow Coma Scale in his head and ranked himself a perfect 15. Definitely not a coma. Dream? His head hurt too much and his hands were bleeding. Aliens? Stupid. For the first time in his life, if this still counted as his life, he gave up on reason. Instead, he propelled himself forward, executing a decent front crawl that left him sailing toward the shore, half carried by the current. The sun was nothing but a flat pink dot on the horizon when he finally hit the sand, his hands and knees buckling out from under him. Maybe he could find a phone somewhere to call Elizabeth and tell her he was alright, confused, but alright. Aaron winced at the thought of his Mother, unconscious on the cold pavement. What would drive her to...he knew it had always been hard on her, but so many years had gone by. He had thought she was over it. He thought that she knew that it was Jack who had turned his back on them. The sand under his palms felt grainy and made them itch so he got to his feet and dusted himself off as best he could. The beach around him stretched on as far as he could see so Aaron did the only thing he could think of― he started walking. Kate always chewed on her bottom lip when she was nervous and now was no exception. She sat on a log outside the makeshift medical tent and stared into the fire, watching the tongues of flame leap up into the night. She wasn't sure what scared her more, the prospect of losing Jack or the knowledge that there was not a damn thing she could do about it. It was all in Juliet's hands now. The raw fear in his eyes as he pleaded with her not to let them knock him out was burned into her mind making her wrestle harder with the feelings that were starting to take over. She no longer felt able to sit still, the restless need to run was almost as instinctive as the fear. She kicked the sand making the mango coloured flames sputter and hiss against the wind that ripped through the camp. "Hey! Excuse me." Someone called out, running toward the light her fire was giving off. She blinked, somewhat surprised when the image didn't resolve itself.

"Hey..." Aaron panted, bending over to set his hands on his knees. He was out of breath but relieved to see that he wasn't entirely alone. "I'm a little lost. Could you direct me toward the nearest gas station or something?" She could see he was dripping wet and squinting through the shaggy blonde hair that was covering his face, it was just on the cusp of becoming unruly. She recoiled, shooting him a look that reminded him of his Mother when he had done something wrong. Actually, the woman in front of him reminded him very much of a younger version of his Mother. It was odd, but he attributed the resemblance, at least in part, to exhaustion and poor lighting. "Even if you could point me in the direction of a pay phone," Aaron suggested. "My cell isn't waterproof." He held out his arms, allowing the water to roll off of him, for emphasis. Kate regarded him with an air of distrust. "Who the hell are you?" She growled dangerously making him step backward a couple of feet. The man frowned. "I'm Aaron," he said, offering his hand. "I just sort of ended up here. Wherever here is." She wasn't buying it, but a low curse caught her attention. They both turned toward the tent. "Damn it Bernard he's gonna bleed to death." Juliet hissed from inside. Her hands were covered in blood as she stared down at the small knick in Jack's ileocolic artery in shock. It had torn when she had cut the appendix loose. "Jack!" Kate released a guttural sob. Aaron stared, eyes wide with shock. He couldn‟t be sure at which point it hit him. Laying prone on the table was his Jack. Well, no, it was the Jack in the photographs his Mom always kept locked away. His Jack had haunted eyes and a bushy beard that always hid his facial expressions, his Jack was rarely sober and took drugs, his Jack was obsessed with maps and finding „the island', his Jack was dead. The med student‟s thoughts backpedaled. The last memories he had of the man were of mad ramblings of islands in the South Pacific. He remembered how the ex-doctor used to call his Mom, so drunk and broken that he was almost incomprehensible, every Friday night for five years. His Mother? His mouth went dry as he glanced at Kate and it was his turn to be afraid. The fear didn't last. "Kate get out of here!" Juliet warned, trying to keep her mind on the task at hand. "I don't have any silver nitrate sticks to stop the bleeding," she said more to herself than anyone else. It was hard to hear herself think over the sound of her own heart beating. Jack couldn't die, he just couldn't.

Aaron pushed further into the tent making Kate step back and Bernard jump. "You'll need to cauterize the bleed then." They all stared at him. "I'm a doctor." He lied, but it was close enough. He was almost a doctor. "You can use a cold fusion laser to induce a clot." More staring. "May I?" Aaron reached for the small kit he kept in his coat pocket while shrugging out of the garment. He grabbed a pair of surgical gloves before anyone could protest and stepped beside Juliet who was too busy to pay much attention to him. Bernard and Kate were watching him dumbfounded as he retrieved the pencil sized laser from his kit. "I know I haven't given you any reason to trust me but the doctor in me does not want to stand back and watch this man die when I can do something about it," he said evenly. Kate looked from Juliet to the strange man and back to Juliet again. Then she looked at Jack, pale and too out of it to be aware that anything was happening, that his life was in danger. "Let him do it," she croaked. "Let him do it...please." Juliet glanced up. "I don't know who you are, but if you kill him..." She lifted her hands and let him have a look. This wasn't the type of operation to be done in the field with minimal supplies and drugs. "How long since you removed the last of the tissue?" Aaron peered into Jack's abdominal cavity with a grimace. He didn't understand what the hell was going on or how any of this was possible, but the doctor in him slowly took over. "Ten minutes at most." He had done this so many times before. 'It's just like riding a bike', he told himself. "Can you clamp the appendicular artery and spread a little wider? Yeah, like that...good." They worked vigorously for over an hour, Bernard hesitating whenever Aaron asked for something and Juliet mildly impressed with the strange new doctor. Kate felt more queasy than anything else, head between her knees at the entrance to the tent she tapped her foot nervously and waited alongside the worried crowd that had begun to gather. "I think that should be the last of it." He declared finally. He snuck a glance toward Jack to find the man twitching slightly. All was left now were the stitches. "He's gonna need something more for pain." Aaron discarded his gloves and handed Juliet a sampler packet of Vicodin.

"It sure as hell ain't morphine, but it should do the trick I think." He exited the tent before anyone could utter another word to him, almost tripping over Kate whom he gave a thumbs up. The people outside barely caught a glimpse of him as he made a beeline for the northern end of the beach. For once Aaron was thankful for the hollow cover of night, feeling himself fall to the sand and wretch. He was no longer sure what was real and what wasn't. If this was some sort of sick and twisted joke he wanted no part of it. Two: "In the Middle of Nowhere" It was colder on the beach than it had been in a long time. The wind was blowing in off the ocean, laced with salt and cold enough to make the leaves on the palms wilt as it ripped through them. Even the sand felt like ice as Juliet trudged barefoot into the medical tent. "Who is he?" She locked eyes with Kate, a poised expression playing across her features. The brunette glanced up. "He said his name was Aaron. I thought he was one of your people." She didn't mean to stress it, but the syllables tumbled out of her mouth before she could retract them. Juliet pretended not to notice. "No," she said. "I've never seen him before. Ethan and I were the only doctors on the island. Maybe he's from the boat?" She inched closer to examine Jack who was snoring softly in the puffed breaths escaping past his lips. He looked overdrawn and out of place on the makeshift operating table they had fashioned, like he should be standing over it and not on it, limbs slightly dangling over the edge as he shifted in sleep. "I don't think so." Kate raked her memory, trying to remember just what had occurred between her and the stranger. "He seemed just as lost as the rest of us." Juliet raised an eyebrow. "People lie, Kate." She continued to check Jack's reflexes. The incision looked good, clean even, for a procedure that should have been done in a hospital. "I know. But I just don't think he was." She wasn't sure why she was defending him, but there was a familiarity that she perhaps should have recognized. Kate concentrated on that, had their paths crossed before the island? Was he one of Tom's friends? She doubted it. He was young, almost too young to be a doctor. "Honestly, I don't think he was either, but whoever he is, he's gone now." Juliet shrugged and turned to Jack. "Someone's really got their eye out for you," she half joked. Kate offered a small smile of her own. "How's he doing?"

"Out like a light," she laughed. "He would have never made it through if we kept him awake, even as stubborn as he is." "Just to warn you, I give him half an hour before he's up and checking on everybody else," Kate mused. "That definitely won't be happening," Juliet huffed, waving a tiny packet in front of the other woman's face. "Vicodin," she explained. "Another gift from our friend. He won't be expecting it and it'll knock him out until morning at least. After that it shouldn't be a problem to slip him a sleeping pill with his antibiotics. We can't take the chance that he won't tear anything else if he moves too soon. He almost bled to death." "Could he still die?" Kate's pallor dropped a couple of shades as she gripped the edge of the table and brushed against one of Jack's arms in the process. He stirred, opening one eye and then the other. It felt like he was dragging his thoughts up from underwater. "You knocked me out," he complained to no one in particular once he could string a sentence together. "I wanted to watch," his brows furrowed to meet the creases in his forehead, brown eyes still hazy with sleep. Kate and Juliet stared. Naturally the first thing he would bring up after almost dieing was that he wasn't conscious to help. "Because you let your patients supervise their own surgeries all the time," her dry tone was edged with the last remnants of worry which hadn't quite dissolved around them. He made a noise somewhere between a cough and a chuckle, sounding harsh in the cold night air. "Jack," Kate finally managed to croak his name. Juliet watched them stare at each other, Jack clumsily squeezing Kate's hand and assuring her that he was 'ok'. Those two never really knew just what to do. She took advantage of the distraction and opened the Vicodin pack, extracting both pills along with an antibiotic from another bottle. It wasn't hard to catch Kate's eyes once they had wedged their fingers under his shoulders and tilted him slightly so he was half sitting. "Just some ampicillin, Jack. And some Tylenol for the pain." Juliet told him as she handed him a bottle of water. Right now he was more uncomfortable than in pain, but his body was starting to catch up with his mind and they both knew it would start to hurt soon. "Good." He gave an uncoordinated nod and had to stop to breath before he continued. "I'm glad we don't have anything stronger. I need to be alert." Jack swallowed the pills after a few tries, squirming away from the hands that were trying to ease him back down. "Jack, what are you doing?" Kate felt the strength return to her voice. He was attempting to swing his legs off the table and push himself up with a groan.

"Jack!" Juliet looked ready to throttle him. "I'm just..." He paused, fully siting up with his shoulders hunched and the tiniest of grimaces shadowing the heavy dusting of scruff that was starting to appear along his chin. "I'm just going to check and see how everyone's holding up then I'll take it easy for a bit. I promise." "No, That's insane." Juliet shook her head furiously and Kate found herself agreeing. "You need to stay here and you need to rest. I just removed your appendix, the wound isn't even fully closed yet! You can't just be getting up and doing whatever you want. You're staying put," the doctor seethed. "Honestly, I feel fine." Jack suppressed a yawn as he lifted up the hem of his t-shirt to inspect the bandage covering the incision. He would never admit that he was starting to feel strange, like the world around him was going a little dimer than he was comfortable with, but just at the edges of his vision. Kate watched him blinking heavily and tried a different approach. "Jack," she addressed him softly, moving his hands to let his shirt fall back down and cover his abdomen, the faintest hint of a white bandage peeking out. "Listen, I need your help with something ok?" He was instantly more alert, nodding and waiting for her to speak. She didn't do so right away, deliberately making him wait, forcing him to feel the calming effects of the drug starting to take hold. "What's the difference between a 3-iron and a pitching wedge?" His hand felt a little wobbly as it skated across his face. He pinched the bridge of his nose in confusion. "What?" "Since you're the self proclaimed island golf expert I was hoping you could help me improve my game?" Jack wasn't alert enough to see through her. He drew in a breath and let it out slowly feeling doped-up and increasingly euphoric. "Well, wedges are similar to irons in the sense that..." Kate was smiling at him, she looked very pretty, he thought. "...in the sense that..." What was he saying again? The world around him was pulsating with splashes of color at varying intensities, they seemed to entrap him. He could almost feel himself falling backwards, like his mind was floating as an overwhelming sense of relaxation washed over his body, every muscle going limp. "Woah, easy I got him." Juliet was on the other side of the table, bracing him from falling back. They adjusted him to a supine position, his eyes were still open slightly and he was mumbling incoherently about what they suspected was golf.

"Rest, Jack." Kate stroked his cheek, memorizing the rough stubble as he nudged further into her hand with a happy sign. "Nice work distracting him." Juliet whispered. She looked somehow sad in the flicking torch light of the tent. "The last thing he needs is to be up and about." "Previous experience," Kate chuckled. "It's easier when he doesn't catch on." Her expression changed. "We'll have some of the guys move him back to his tent after he's been out for a few minutes. Thankfully now he shouldn't be in any condition to protest," The blonde woman assured, staring at the lopsided smile that was tugging on Jack's features as he slipped a little deeper. "Juliet." Kate suddenly felt uneasy. " I want to thank you, for saving him." Juliet nodded. "It certainly wasn't all me on that one." Her expression stiffened. "You know, he kissed me. The other day, when you came back from the other side of the island, Jack kissed me." "Oh," Kate let her hand fall back to her side. His eyes were closed now. "It was nice. ...But it wasn't for me. It was for him. I'm pretty sure he was trying to prove something." "Prove what?" Her heart was beating fast enough to make her flush. "That he doesn't love someone else," the doctor's tone was sad but not bitter, more reflective than anything else. "He's a good guy, Kate. Just remember that ok?" Juliet was already out of the tent before Kate could say anything. She sat down in the sand next to the table, resting her head against the edge. She reached for Jack's arm which was dangling off and made small strokes across his knuckles with the pad of her thumb. For once in her life she was glad that she hadn't decided to run. He didn't know how long he was on his knees with the tide dangerously close to his legs, silver in the wavering moonlight. Aaron shivered into the sand. He hadn't dried off after his swim and the cold night air was starting to take its toll on his resolve. His stomach contents were next to him, a putrid mess that was even more unbearable as the wind picked up. It was easier just to drop to his belly and roll away from it than expend energy on moving. The part of his mind that usually dealt with rationality wasn't working. He couldn't understand how he could just fall off a bridge and wind up on a tropical island that was obviously some point in the past; the image of Jack and his mother assured him of that. He just didn't understand and doubted he'd get anywhere with it tonight. His main focus now should be getting warm and finding food. Hopefully it wouldn't be too hard with the ocean to his left and the wild greens of the jungle to his right.

"Hey!...Hey are you alright?...Hey!" Before Aaron had even realize he had dozed off he was being shaken awake. His eyes rolled open, sluggish and uncooperative. "Huh?" He mumbled, wincing at the sound of his own voice. "What's happening?" Bernard was patting him down, feeling his cool, clammy skin with an air of worry. "Why did you run?" He asked seriously. Aaron recognized the voice and jerked his head up when his vision stopped spinning. "I was lost. I wasn't really sure where I was going," he admitted. "You could have stuck around long enough for one of us to get you a change of clothes. It's the least we could've done." The gray haired man sounded much more gentle than he had in the medical tent. "She said without you he would have died. You saved Jack's life....I'm sorry I don't even know your name." Aaron felt strong enough to sit up and swat the hair out of his eyes. "Aaron," he rasped. "Well Aaron, I'm Bernard." The older man offered his hand and grinned warmly. "My offer still stands you know. If you come back I can hook you up with some dry clothes and a meal." He felt all the saliva in his mouth start to dry up. If this was the past he should stay as far away from everyone as possible, but he wasn't so sure he could survive out here on his own. In actual fact, Bernard never really gave him an option. One minute he was sitting on the ground, the next one arm was being hoisted around Bernard's neck and he was being dragged down the beach by the older man. "Hey Juliet," Bernard spotted her at the edge of the sand with her knees pulled up to her chest as she watched the lull of the surf. She turned around, spotting the pair before jogging up to meet them. "What happened?" She demanded, giving Aaron a once over with her eyes. "I found him passed out. He's still damp." "You were wet when you were operating on Jack," she stated. Aaron shrugged. "Yeah well, it wasn't like I was planning to end up here. I didn't have another change of clothes with me. How's he doing?"

"Sleeping, thanks to the Vicodin you gave him. Come on," she tilted her head toward Sawyer's vacant tent. "I need to examine you." "It's alright," Aaron assured, barely suppressing a shiver. "I'm a doctor," he stated it in the same way that Jack always did, that doctor's didn't get sick. "Really, I'm just a little wet...okay drenched and tired. No big deal right? So if you excuse me I'll just be..." "In the tent." Juliet seethed, half annoyed that no one seemed to want to take her advice today. First Jack and now Aaron...whoever he was. "Okay...okay," the sandy haired man held up his hands and did what he was told. She fetched him one of Jack's old shirts and a dry pair of jeans before forcing him down on the bedroll to take his pulse. "63," Aaron yawned, mentally keeping count. "And if I had to guess my blood pressure is low and my temperature is slightly elevated, but only a degree at most." "You're no exception to the rule that doctors make the worst patients are you?" She asked with raised eyebrows. He offered a small 'sorry' and kept his head down. This was too weird for his liking. "You saved his life in there," Juliet said after a long moment as she watched the shadows flicker under the blue hues of the tent. "If you hadn't of came when you did, I would have been the reason he died. I was careless." Aaron snorted and shook his head. "You weren't careless. You had the hard work already done. Arteries are very fickle, it happens to the best of us. You would have got it," he said with a sigh. She would have had too in order for Jack to still be alive long enough to conceive Elizabeth with Kate. He didn't know much about the time line, but he knew that at least. "You should try and get some sleep. There are going to be questions in the morning," she warned as she exited. Questions that Aaron didn't have the answers too. He glanced down at the shirt he was waring, the white and grey plaid was soft under his calloused fingers. He was comforted in the sense that it smelled of Jack before all the alcohol and pills, before when he was just Jack, when he was a doctor and a hero. In this time the real Jack Shephard was still alive and not the empty shell of a man that he believed, growing up, was so much more. Three: "He's Not Me"

He wasn't surprised that he tossed, turned and barely shut his eyes. His back hurt and he felt too tired and too alert to really get much sleep. It seemed almost surreal, the eerie calm that skated across the beach with the braking dawn, like he'd been doing this everyday of his life. None of it made any sense. Aaron watched the first pink rays of sunlight strike the sand, finding the sea air much more refreshing and easier to breath than his stale enclosure. He hated to admit that he enjoyed the solitude of it all, but it wasn't something he would want to do everyday of his life. He needed to get home, to tell his Mom and Lizzie that he was ok, to finish his review and read up on his medical journals, he needed to live his life. This was like purgatory. The waves crashed harder across the rocks as the sky brightened and the rain clouds moved in. The camp still wasn't stirring and Aaron wondered if they had gotten too use to their temporary home. He wondered if they had lost their passion for finding the real world. Movement soon followed the choppy water, a dark figure slouching toward the camp from the northern end of the beach. Aaron's eyes trained on it immediately and somehow knew it was out of place. He was on his feet before his brain even recognized he was moving, one step after the other as fast as his legs could carry him. "No." He paled, the figure lurched forward in the sand absolutely wasted and grinning from ear to ear. "I'm...back," the man slurred, tongue catching in the back of his throat to emit a thick gurgle. Aaron's heart was beating so hard it threatened to tear a hole in his rib cage. His face was flushed as he watched a completely inebriated Jack Shephard stagger toward him...no toward the camp, as fast as his wobbly legs would carry him. "You're dead," he breathed. This was his Jack. The one with the grizzly, overgrown beard and wild eyes that were clouded with an unfathomable lust that he could never satisfy― one that involved pills and the need to be out of control. This was the Jack that had abandoned his family, left his Mother heartbroken with a child he would never meet. This was the Jack who jumped of the bridge all those years ago. Jumped off the bridge. The sandy haired man winced― the same bridge he had fallen off twenty years later. He glanced down the beach where he knew the Jack who was supposed to be here was still recovering. Kate was there, and Juliet, Bernard, and all the others he hadn't met yet. He would never be able to explain to them why there were two Jack's, especially one that seemed the very opposite of everything their Jack was supposed to be. He didn't want Kate to see him so drunk and dazed ever again, better yet, he didn't want Jack to see himself.

"I can't let you go back there," Aaron told the drunken man slowly as he took him by the shoulders and attempted to look him in the eyes. They wouldn't focus long enough for Jack to get a clear view of the boy. All he knew was that he was just another obstacle trying to block him from his friends. "No...I wasn't suppose to leave," his voice was hollow as he shook his head in a slow, woozy manner. "Jack," he bit back his anger long enough to question the older man. "How much have you had to drink, Jack?" It needed to be a hell of a lot to help him jump off a bridge. Liquid courage. He mumbled something Aaron couldn't make out and flashed him a grin in an attempt to shake himself free from his grip. He wasn't sure how he had missed it before, but Jack was high...very high. "Gotta go back..." He nudged into Aaron looking desperate and trying to knock him backwards. It ended with a grunt and the younger man evading a clumsy swing aimed at his face. Jack almost lost his balance, but was hauled up by the collar of his shirt and punched several times in the stomach. He landed on all fours, emptying the contents of his stomach out onto the sand. Aaron was almost in tears. He didn't want to do this, he was use to the fact that the Jack he had gotten to know was dead. He didn't want to see him like this, vomiting bile, and booze, and pills. He counted five that were half digested, presumably narcotics by the way he was acting. In the distance he could hear people starting to wake up and leave their tents. He couldn't stay here and he certainly couldn't risk going back to get the few items he did have with him. Sighing, he looked down at Jack, on his belly in the sand and brought his hand down hard against the other man's neck. The effect was instant, Jack's body crumpled and Aaron let the tears flow freely while he rooted for a pulse. When he found one, slow and irregular, he lowered himself with a grunt and hoisted Jack over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. He didn't know where they were going, but they certainly couldn't stay here. By midafternoon Aaron was borderline exhausted and more lost than he thought he'd ever be. Perhaps cutting into the jungle wasn't such a great idea, but he was starting to realize the importance of staying out of sight. He had to focus on dealing with the dead weight on his shoulder and getting them both home. The others would ask questions that he knew he couldn't answer. He was relying on Jack for some direction, once he had sobered up. The bearded man had obviously spent a great deal of time here for it to torment him so much. The facts of the past he did know where scattered at best. He silently cursed his lack of knowledge of the Oceanic Six, the stuff that Kate had been determined to protect him from. Aaron had this sinking feeling that they hadn't all made it back― Juliet and the others. He bit his lip when Jack groaned. It wasn't hard to tell he was uncomfortable, increasingly hungover, and sick of being carried like a sack of potatoes. Aaron's shoulder didn't like the

arrangements much either, the muscles were starting to tense and he was forced to set the man down inside the mouth of a large cave. It was dark and half hidden by vines, reminding Aaron of an adventure novel he had once read as a child. He couldn't remember much about it now. Another groan, Jack really was trying hard to rejoin the world of the living. He was also damp and starting to shake, just like Aaron did after trampsing around in wet clothes for several hours. The younger man was starting to feel more pity than anger, the doctor side in him, he supposed. With a huff he dragged Jack a little further into the cave and set off to find fire wood before the sky let go. He used quartz to spark the tinder, relieved when the few branches he did mange to tear down had started to burn. "Jack," he asked, his voice sounding loud and harsh in the stillness of the cave. It was pouring outside. "Jack, I have to get you out of these wet clothes before you get sick. Aaron knelt close to him and shook his shoulders. "Come on," he encouraged the help, peeling away the striped shirt he was wearing like a second skin. The undershirt came next, then the pants, leaving the man in his boxers and socks. He shouldn't have been surprised by what he found. The hip-flask was half full of cheep vodka which he dumped out in exchange for rainwater, cool and fresh as it trickled from the lip of the cave. The pills, oxycodone, he kept; there were only six left but, Jack would need them if he didn't want to die from withdrawal. "Who the hell are you?" Jack's eyes were open and he sounded infuriated. The beard made him look feral, like he had lived in the jungle his entire life. His vision was trained on the pills in Aaron's hand, an addict needing fix. "Whoa, easy." The younger man was almost thankful that Jack's body hadn't quite caught up to speed with his mind. His movements were slow and getting up resulted in a lot of stumbling. "I need you help," Aaron blurted, the roughness in his voice was unmistakable. He folded his arms and sat with his back to one of the rock walls. Hopefully it was a gesture of non-intent. "You want these? Here." He rolled the bottle to Jack. "But I'll warn you there's only a few left and I don't know how long we'll be stuck here." Jack grabbed the bottle like a starving man, angry and possessive, but he calmed when they were back in his grasp. "Who are you?" He demanded. "Aaron." If this was the way he wanted to play it, fine. He would let Jack have control for now.

"What happened?" Jack was tapping on the cap of the bottle, twisting it off, tossing one back and sighing as if he could already feel the riveting high take over him. Mentally, he could because he knew exactly what was coming. Five to go, Aaron counted. "You jumped off the 6th Street Bridge," he said unpleasantly. Jack stared at him hard. His eyes flashed making the younger man wonder if he was reliving it. "How did you know that?" There was a hint of fear in his voice as he collapsed backward. The fuzziness the alcohol brought was gone and left only the clarity of a monster headache. "Because I've visited your grave on the anniversary for almost twenty years." Whatever Jack was expecting, it wasn't that. He clenched his jaw with a hazy, pissed off stare that gradually morphed into utter shock by the time he had made sense of the words in his brain. "What?..." He stammered thickly. "...what..." Aaron dropped his head feeling tired and guilty. "None of this makes any sense but I think we ended up in some sort of time-warp. You jumped off the bridge twenty years ago in my time and I fell off it trying to keep someone else from jumping. Next thing I know I wash up on the beach and stumble into that camp...err...your camp. " He finished. Now Jack was sure he was hallucinating. "My camp?" He scoffed. "Well, yeah. I walked up the beach and ran into Kate. She was upset because you had appendicitis and Juliet was operating on you. You had a bleed, right branch of the ileocolic artery, I helped her repair it and they invited me to stay the night. Sorry I was pretty rough with you, but when I saw you staggering up the beach I didn't think it would be a good idea for them to see, considering you're sort of already there recovering from surgery." Aaron's tone was flat and emotionless as though he was informing Jack that it would be cloudy with a fifty percent chance of showers. Jack's hand automatically drifted to his abdomen where a paper thin scar was visible. He looked down in confusion. "Your clothes were soaked, they're drying there," he pointed, reading what the bearded man was silently asking easily, the rest of it he couldn't answer. "So why do you bother to visit my grave?" Jack's voice was barely audible under the steady hiss of rain outside. "Because you used to read to me and you meant the world to Kate." The med student said slowly. Now he had Jack's full attention and knew he had finally pieced it together.

"You're her Aaron?" Jack's voice cracked. He was looking at something that couldn't be real. The little boy that had once hugged him, and dropped his wallet down the toilet, and begged him to read him stories was right in front of him, regarding him at his very worst. "Hey, do I really look that frightening?" Aaron tried to joke. "Okay, I know it's been a while, I probably need a bath and something to eat but I don't bite, honest." "No...I..." he was stammering. "Look, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that for some strange reason we are stranded here together and we're gonna have to find a way home." Aaron sounded like Jack, all those years ago. Whatever Jack was going to say was cut short by the steady splash of footsteps from outside. "In here, hurry." A voice broke through the rain as four wary travelers stumbled in from outside. Sawyer shook the water out of his hair while Miles and Claire, clutching baby Aaron, huddled behind him, thankful to be out of the rain. The southerner blinked, craning his neck to check on the others when the flicking of the small fire caught his eye. "Doc?" He yelped, his eyes fixed on a bearded version of Jack sitting up against a cave wall, wearing only his boxers. To Be Continued


				
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