Okay, this is going to be kind of weird...it's based on the premise that the raft plan actually worked and they were rescued. (We all know it won't happen, but it's fun to play around with. )


Chapter One

Sawyer opened the door tentatively and pushed on it, watching as it slowly swung inward on squeaking hinges. The place looked pretty much the same, which surprised him. There was a layer of dust over everything, but that was really nothing new. After all, he hardly ever came here, even before he'd gone to Australia. This was the house he'd lived in as a kid, the scene of the most tragic, terrifying moment he had ever experienced - the house where he had witnessed his parents' deaths.

After he'd been sent to live with distant relatives at the age of eight, he hadn't thought about the house much. But it must have been there somewhere, lurking in the back of his mind, because when he was 20 and had completed his first truly lucrative scam, it was the first thing he'd thought of. He'd found himself in Tennessee, standing in front of it, not really wanting to go in but unable to leave. It wasn't for sale, and he hadn't really expected it would be. But the guy who owned it lived in Maine, and it wasn't too hard to convince him that it would be in his best interest to sell. Even after purchasing it, Sawyer rarely stayed there. It was a place to touch base, but he spent most of his time traveling. He liked knowing it was there, though...that it was at least someplace to go back to, if he had no other options.

Now, after spending over a month on the island from hell, it looked better than ever. He walked in slowly and dropped his bag. He had no idea why he'd kept the damn bag - most of the things in it weren't even his, and it wasn't like he'd need it now. But it was just an instinct for him to keep his possessions close. He hated losing anything.

He flicked the light switch experimentally, not really expecting anything to happen, but he was surprised when it flashed on immediately. "I'll be damned," he said softly in wonder. The power company must have forgotten to shut him off - it wasn't like he'd paid the bill last month.

He looked around, unsure what to do next. His eye came to rest in the corner, on the dusty television set - the one that had been top-of-the-line in 1985, but now looked like something from another planet. He clicked the power button and was once again surprised when it came on. The sound itself startled him - after having heard virtually nothing but the noise of pounding waves for the last 40 days, everything here was strange. He hadn't counted on it being so hard to adjust.

As the picture gradually changed from black to color, he noticed for the first time what the voices were saying. It was a newscast - it dawned on him slowly that it was a newscast about them. The first thing his eye registered was Claire and the baby - the anchor was just finishing up the tidbit about the birth, apparently. Then a shot of Charlie, looking like a goon.

"Also among the survivors rescued Thursday was British rock band Driveshaft's bass guitarist, Charlie Pace. Fans of the group expressed jubilation at this unexpected turn of events, and Mr. Pace has released a statement thanking fans for their ongoing support and promising a reunion tour with new material to commence sometime later this year." Then a shot of an hysterical group of girls, holding signs and screaming, "WE LOVE YOU, CHARLIE!"

Sawyer rolled his eyes and snorted in disgust.

The anchor went on. "And, in a surprising boon for the United States justice system, wanted fugitive Katherine Austin was apprehended by federal agents as the rescue effort got underway. Austin is wanted for a string of crimes, including murder and manslaughter, and has been managing to evade authority for at least five years."

At first he didn't even recognize the name. It meant nothing to him. Who the hell was Katherine? But then...there she was. Kate. An agent escorted her on both sides, and she was in handcuffs. He almost stopped breathing. She looked at the camera, angry...but there was something else there as well. Terror. In all the time he'd spent with her on the island, he'd never once seen that look in her eyes. He felt her gaze go right through him, across all the distance between them, transported through the airwaves here, into this house.

"At the time of the tragic crash, Austin was being escorted to a U.S. facility under the jurisdiction of a federal marshal. Sadly, that agent did not survive the accident. For more details on the stunning and unprecedented discovery of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, you can visit our web site at..."

He stopped listening. Forcing himself to move, he reached over and flipped the power switch again. Silence settled back over the house. He sat there, feeling sick. He'd known it was going to happen - hell, he'd expected it. He'd even told her that he knew it. But somehow, the reality was different. That look she'd aimed at the camera was almost accusing. He knew that was ridiculous, but he couldn't help thinking it.

He could have given her the spot. But he told himself that it wouldn't have made any difference. The boat that had picked up the raft had radioed back their information about the flight - by the time they'd reached the Australian mainland, the authorities (and the journalists) were already waiting for them. If she'd been there, she probably still would have been picked up. The key word, however, was probably. She might have had a chance. At least she wouldn't have been cornered.

"Fuck it," he said angrily, getting up and kicking the chair out of the way. He had enough problems of his own to worry about. Hell, if she was as bad as they said, maybe she deserved to be in prison. The thought didn't make him feel any better, though, because he knew deep down that she didn't deserve it.

Storming through the house, he located the spot where he kept a hidden stash of money - on the back of the toilet tank, a trick his dad had taught him when he was still just a little kid. He grabbed part of it, leaving the rest there, but then, on second thought, took all of it. There was a good bar near here - if it was still open, that was. He'd never needed a drink more in his life.

He pulled back into the driveway at an awkward angle in the pouring rain, knowing he'd had too much to drink for the third night in a row, but not really caring. This routine was becoming almost comforting. Once he'd discovered that the bar was still open for business, he'd practically moved in. He'd been there every afternoon and evening for three days - since the day he got home, in fact, and he had little desire to do anything else. Whenever the effects of the alcohol started to wear off, he'd found himself thinking about her. It was crazy, but it was like he couldn't think of anything else. He didn't know what the hell was wrong with him.

At first, the people in the small Appalachian town had tried to approach him, asking questions about the plane crash and the island. But he'd made himself intentionally unapproachable. It wasn't hard - in fact, it was almost second nature. By now, everyone was leaving him alone, which was just the way he liked it. Thank God the phone service had been turned off, because he knew that if it hadn't, every goddamn journalist in the country would be calling trying to get an interview. On the second night he'd made the mistake of venturing into the room at the bar where the television was kept, hoping to catch a baseball game. Instead, he'd caught a glimpse of Jack being interviewed by Barbara Walters. He'd made it a point to avoid that room ever since.

He got out of the car slowly, testing himself to see how steady he would be on his feet. Not too bad, considering. His alcohol threshold was readjusting. He didn't even feel all that drunk. Ducking his head in the sheets of water falling from the sky, he made his way onto the porch, unlocked the door, and let himself in.

He stood in the tiny entrance hall for a second, getting his bearings. Peeling off his soaked t-shirt, he headed toward the kitchen, trying groggily to remember if he'd bought any food since he'd been back.

Suddenly, a sharp sound echoed through the house, coming from the direction of the downstairs bedroom. He stopped, immediately tensed and alert. What the hell was that? He waited for a second, not hearing anything else. Grabbing a baseball bat that he somehow, against all odds, remembered he kept just inside the alcove below the stairs, he headed slowly toward the door of the room the sound had come from.

Swallowing nervously, he turned the doorknob and tentatively inched it open. The room was pitch black, but from the breeze he could tell that the window had been opened...and as he listened closely, he could hear breathing. Would those damn reporters really go this far to get a story? He hoped the bastards knew that he wouldn't put up with it - he didn't care if it was fuckin' Tom Brokaw himself, he'd beat the hell out of anybody that dared to trespass on his property.

Steeling himself for a fight, he ran his hand along the wall just inside the doorway until he found the light switch. Flicking it on with his left hand, he raised the bat with his right...and then shocked, lowered it slowly in absolute bewilderment.

Standing in the middle of the room, drenched to the skin and breathing raggedly, was Kate.