Tracking 101 (pg-13, Kate, Sawyer, Sayid, Arzt)

Title: Tracking 101

Part 1 of 6

Author: purplegoose

Rating: PG-13 language, adult humor

Featured Characters: Kate, Sawyer, Sayid, Arzt

Summary: When Locke is no longer supplying the camp with boar, Kate teaches others how to track. (Take places after "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues)

Author's Notes/Disclaimer: I do not own the characters in this story, nor do I own any rights to the television show "Lost". They were created by JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof and they belong to them, Touchstone, and ABC.

Special thanks to super betas MrsTater and WhoKnowsWhy., I would have abandoned this beyond this point without their help, encouragement, prodding, and support.

Chapter 1

Kate leaned into the branch, and pushed the one in front of her to the left. A bit more effort – there! She watched for a moment, then inhaled deeply. She opened her eyes and scanned the patch of sky. It was close and blue. It was so achingly beautiful, and the best she could come up with was that it was close and blue. That was wrong. It sang of openness and space and freedom and emptiness and simplicity, and the best she could do was say that it was close and blue

That didn't stop her from grinning from ear to ear. At this moment, in this mango tree, on this limb, with that mango right there about to be plucked, Kate Ryan/Austin/Dodd was happy. It made no sense. She couldn't explain it, describe it, or justify it without destroying it. Or maybe she could, but who wanted to wallow in the past? Life in a mango tree on an island was good today.

And it didn't have to be a mango tree.

Kate released the branch and quit leaning. She resumed harvesting, dropping the fruit into the backpack – technically a front pack at this moment, she noted with a smaller smile. It gave her joy to find legitimacy in tree climbing today. She was able to satisfy part of her compulsion to pitch in, be needed, by picking fruit, and could still be alone. To pick the best fruit answered a bit more. To pick the best fruit, she had to climb trees. By climbing tall trees -

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an animal of some size moving in the undergrowth just beyond her line of sight. She pulled herself closer to the trunk, adjusting her feet so that she was solidly set. She tried to ignore the racing of her heart. It wasn't the Thing, not enough noise for that. Maybe it was just a boar. It didn't have to be Ethan.

Or was it a bear? A much slower bear than the one that Sawyer shot with the marshal's gun. Black bears climb but did polar bears? Would a polar bear climb when living on a tropical island? Her mind provided the big white paws scratching through the black bark, then the black nose preceding the mouth of sharp ivory teeth speckled with blood up the tree trunk after her.

Relief flushed through her as Sayid limped from the tall growth. He paused to pull a vine from his staff.

"Hey," she called. "Can polar bears climb trees?"

The dark man paused, resting on his tall cane. He raised his right hand to deflect the late afternoon sun, looking upward. "Hello, Kate." He located her and watched, waiting.

She loosened her grip, plucked a mango, and dropped it into the backpack. "You were making a lot of noise." She picked another.

"Jack sent me. You've been gone for some time." Dropping the staff, he shucked his backpack and began to root in its contents.

That was quite the mood killer. This was getting so old. She wasn't pregnant, wasn't helpless, and could even feed herself. "How did you find me?" Another mango stem snapped and fruit dropped into the bag.

"Walt saw you leave. He pointed the direction. I stayed the path with the most fruit trees." He took a deep drink.

"And you made it all this way by yourself?" She scanned the branches. All ripe fruit within arm's reach was taken. She started down the trunk.

He seemed to consider this. "I asked Walt to join me, but he was busy protecting his dog."

Hit noted. She jumped the last few feet. "I'm sorry, Sayid." She brushed her hands on her hips. "But I can take care of myself."

He offered the bottle. She shook her head.

"It's only been three days since Claire was taken. Jack is justifiably concerned for the safety of…" he was clearly seeking a phrase that wouldn't irritate. He abandoned the effort. "You."

Her lips made a straight line as she zipped her backpack, pulling it on her back. She freed her pony tail with her hand. "Do you think he's right?"

"Jack did say that Ethan's strength was unusual. I am not comfortable with the idea of you trying to confront him."

"C'mon, Sayid, I'm not stupid enough to take him on. I'm too fast a runner." In more ways than one.

"Provided that he didn't surprise you, that would serve, I suppose." He didn't sound convinced.

"Maybe Jack should be concerned with everyone then. Look at you. Why send you? You can't run."

"Most of the men are busy searching for Claire. As you noted, I find it difficult to be stealthy."

Men on this island seemed incapable of a straight answer. She frowned, staring hard at him.

He broke eye contact as he returned the bottle to the pack. He carefully lowered himself to retrieve the rod. They began towards the beach.

"If it makes you feel any better, I suspect that Jack was trying to prop up my masculine spirits." Sayid smiled weakly at her.

"I think you mean bolster your male ego." She mentally sighed at the slow gait. It could very well be dark by the time they made it back to the beach. She could appreciate company in the dark if the company wasn't the cause of her to be in the dark. She resisted the urge to run ahead.

Sayid flushed lightly. "Yes, that." A small smile crossed his mouth as his eye slid to meet hers. "As you can imagine, there was not much call for the phrase in Baghdad."

Kate grimaced wryly. "How's the leg?"

This garnered a half smile. "I imagine that my trail is fairly distinctive with this stick."

Kate glanced down at the ground, pushing away a broad and mangled leaf with her toe. "Yep. Even in this dry spot, you can see the marks pretty plain."

"You can track?"

His tone – the wonder in it - stung.

"Yes," she said curtly, turning to him. "I can actually track a little."

Damn straight she could track. And a lot more than a little. Her father did not permit less than complete mastery once he made up his mind that she was going to learn something. Getting there might be on the painful side – her first lesson trailing deer for eight hours and wanting to cry for at least two of those hours because she was tired and hungry and couldn't because he would make her stay out longer – but her set of skills were honed.

One skill in particular the old man had no idea he was polishing was her ability of smiling as she seethed. It accompanied almost every lesson. There hadn't been much call for it on the island in the beginning. That seemed to be shifting as time went on. It was a true survival art. She should have thanked the old bastard.

"I lacked the foresight to learn." He creased his brow, then sighed. "I'm sorry that I offended you." It was pretty clear that he had no idea where the insult lay.

"It doesn't matter," said Kate, though exactly what didn't matter was open. She lifted a shoulder in an attempt to shift the backpack's contents. "If you're thinking about helping track Claire, there's nothing to follow now. Even Locke can't pick anything up. Rain, people trampling all over. Even if you could go out today, all the skill in the world isn't going to do any good."

They trudged in silence for a time. Kate gave him a sideways glance. Sayid was plainly pondering. She gave him several yards, then asked, "What?"

Sayid took a few minutes, uncertain of either the words or the idea, and then said slowly, "Rousseau said that there are others on the island. Is it possible to examine the perimeter of our camp for tracks that are not ours?"

Kate turned over the question, and shook her head. "I'm no expert, but I don't think so. Not unless there's something unique about them. We couldn't tell their tracks from ours." She could see that this wasn't what he wanted to hear. "We can ask Locke what he thinks."

Sayid frowned. "That isn't necessary. I trust your judgment."

She wished that she could hear Jack say that.

Of course Sayid didn't know as much about her as Jack. The Iraqi was pretty much taking her as she presented herself: brave, resourceful, upfront. Pretty Kate who would trek into the jungle or up mountains, climb trees to hang antenna to improve the odds of rescue; who gathered fruit to share; who carried water back to camp: it was good to see this reflection in this man's eyes. Not the Kate with a number across her chest; the one that showed in Jack's at times when he looked at her.

She found it interesting that of all the men, it was the Middle Eastern one who treated her most like an equal. He took her into his confidence about the electronic equipment that he was building; when the water disappeared, they worked as a team to discover the culprit. Obviously, they weren't a crack investigative team but she appreciated the right to be wrong with him on level ground. She liked that he could be angry around her - shout, throw things – without worrying that he was frightening her. Or displace that anger in her direction. When he disagreed with the coterie, he didn't just argue with Jack, he appealed to all.

Yet, she was aware that Sayid had been interested in her as a woman for a time. When living by wits and charm, a female had better be able to tell when a man was sniffing around. He never acted on it, although she caught a look or two, noting how he would step just one step closer to talk to her, the satisfied looks that he made when she put Sawyer down.

She couldn't play it loose enough to keep the intrigue going.

Jack was a beacon – the good guy, the hero. He represented what was inside of her, what no one could see except Tom, what she fought so hard to bring to the surface to be thwarted time and again. If she would have had some breaks: a different father, a brother to share the scrutiny, money, she would be the female Jack. So, when Jack approached as she was talking with Sayid, the conversation ended; she followed Jack.

She pretended to miss the fleeting expression of annoyance on Sayid's face.

Besides, how did you flirt with a guy like Sayid? Where to place the appeal? He seemed to have a no nonsense edge that argued against flattery. The eye roll that he shared with her as Shannon and Boone bickered before the mountain climb spoke volumes to that.

She considered the damsel in distress flavor, but it would cost her the equal footing that she enjoyed so much. Kate didn't see Sayid talking to Shannon, seeking out Shannon's company as he did initially with Kate. Add to it damsels didn't climb trees, didn't go on hunts, and would be impossible for her to maintain. So, playing up the helpless or the pretty wasn't the right angle to win him over.

Since hitting the mid twenties, age wasn't the card to throw out with men under forty. Neither was insinuating familiarity. Besides, both of those circled back to flattery.

Sayid did seem to appreciate competence. So, she was competent around him, level headed. But it paled in comparison to the coquette that could emerge near Jack. Try as she might, she couldn't keep the Sayid option open.

Since the day that she raced away to dig Jack out of the cave-in, Sayid's interest to her diminished. Well, that was also when he lay on the hilltop all night, his absence unnoted while she sat next to Jack in his new Kate-made sling. That day probably smashed his attraction to her like someone smashed the transceiver.

There was a strange feeling of loss at the realization.

What would she see in his eyes now if she really looked? Did a man have to be attracted to her not to see the ugly that she had lived?

She turned her head and realized that she was quite a distance ahead of Sayid. She took the opportunity to study him as he hobbled towards her in the jungle's gloaming.

His face was guarded. He seemed to be listening to - or was it for? – something. His eyes swept back and forth through the trees, but didn't see her. He was an intense person, that much she figured from the start, but right now he looked like he could jump right out of his skin.

Just what happened on his trip up the beach? He came back, frantic about them not being the only ones on the island. Disturbing and sadly not soon enough, but what was it about these others that caused him to look like this? What had the French woman told him to make him so edgy? Was there something besides the Thing to worry about in the jungle?

He drew even with her. "Kate, you can go ahead. I'll be fine." The face he presented friendly, the edges gone.

"And knock down that masculine spirit Jack worked so hard to prop up?" she teased with a smile. He was a nice man. Maybe it was better this way. Maybe they could be friends. She hadn't really had a friend since Tom. She could use a friend. "Just what happened out there, Sayid? What did Rousseau do to you?"

He shifted uncomfortably and resumed walking. "It is as I told you and Jack. I was taken prisoner after I was ensnared by one of her traps. That's how my leg was hurt." The guarded look was creeping back.

"She sounds nuts to me." She fell in beside him. "Traps?"

"It is not 'nuts' to protect your perimeter," he said, almost sternly. "We would do well to take a lesson from her. You would do the same if in her position, I'm certain. Besides, I'm not clear if she set them up for the Others or the bears."

"How did you get that cut on your head?"

"I fell." His eyes grew shuttered.

This was annoying. She paced him now, side by side. "Thank you for the details. You hurt your leg," she counted on her fingers. "You cut your head. There are others on the island. I'm flooded with useful information."

His chin betrayed stubbornness; the staff hit the ground with more force.

"Sayid," she touched his arm.

He recoiled, dropping the staff. He frowned, stooping slowly to retrieve it, his cheeks flushed as she watched him move awkwardly.

He refused to meet her gaze when he straightened.

"So what do we do so no one else has to deal with her?" asked Kate.

Sayid paused, put the cane to ground, and began again to walk.

"We stay out of the jungle." He still refused eye contact but she could see that his expression was closed. His voice was clipped.

"That's not so practical, is it? We've stripped the fruit from the trees near the beach." Kate pushed aside a low hanging vine. "Besides, aren't we in the jungle right now?"

"Her part of the jungle."

"What part is that?" She used her reasonable voice. He would respond to it.

"We will know when we have encroached it."

"Not the best way of avoiding trouble." Kate knew her tone was shifting towards annoyed. This wasn't like him; he was not going to come anywhere near reason after all. She could try the topic later; maybe have Jack give it a go. She stole another glance at him.

He was scared.

The recognition made her stomach flutter, the hairs on the back of her neck rise.

They continued in silence for some time.

"I walked north on the beach," he spoke softly, the stubbornness gone from his tone. "Approximately twenty kilometers. Then I went into the jungle."

She processed this, narrowing her eyes. "That's too far for most of us. We probably don't have anything to worry about it. It wouldn't hurt to warn everyone anyway." Kate reached and touched his arm again. "Sayid, are you okay?"

They had just left him in the infirmary when he came back. Jack dressed the leg and they took off to find Claire and Charlie. No one checked on him that she knew. They sat around the fire with Charlie that night, trying to lend the young man strength, happy that he was still alive, thrilled to have him back.

Kate knew the solitude of strength.

He gave a single shake of the head, again looking only ahead. She bit her lip and sighed.

They moved slowly as the darkness gathered.

"I will be ….okay once we get to the beach," he said it quietly. He was still watching ahead, no eye contact was made. "And in time."

She didn't acknowledge it. It seemed better that way.

The walk was soon automatic, allowing her mind to wander. She recalled the last time that she and Sayid walked together. It was the day of triangulating with the ill-fated antenna. They had been discussing the crash and luck when Sawyer joined them.

Sawyer. What to think about Sawyer? Somehow, without a single clue from her, he knew that they were cut from similar cloth. He puzzled out that she wasn't the pretty and good girl. So, did that make him smarter than Sayid? Would Jack have been able to do the same if the marshal hadn't had that copy of her mug shot in his jacket pocket?

Just how had Sawyer figured her out? She was abrupt with him, disdaining. Despite her put downs, her attempts at keeping her distance, he saw the running Kate. She wanted to identify the crack in her façade he glimpsed so she could plaster over it. She needed it covered so Jack's reliance on a mug shot would give way to the pretty and good Kate's actions. It had to be plastered by the time they got off this forsaken island.

The memory of the kiss interrupted the panic of that need. She smiled to herself, feeling her face grow warm. Why was it the one that she least wanted to want, was probably the man who could kiss the best? She slid a sly glance at the dark haired man at her side. If those eyes were any indication, Sayid would melt her bones. So he was probably inept, she mused ruefully. Would Jack be clinical or would all that repression break free so he could use all those anatomy classes on her anatomy, making her scream?

Kate liked to scream. It had been a long time since she had the pleasure.

She never figured a raggedy-hair redneck could push his tongue in her mouth and awaken the genie of desire. It had been some time since she thought much beyond working to stay free. Keeping a step ahead of Mars kept her attention on moving, not a man's mouth, hands. Even a one-night stand could be fatal to her freedom. She did not miss the irony of it being a one-armed farmer as old as her grandfather.

She should have seen Sawyer coming. It was her Irish luck, the same streak that started at birth. But no honeyed voiced, blued eyed man was going to wreck her chances for a hero. Not even on an island where she carried the badge.

It was almost full dark when they emerged to the beach. It had taken less time than she thought.

"Thanks, Sayid," she put a hand on his free forearm. She could feel muscle with a light touch. "Maybe an escort wasn't a bad idea after all."

His eyes betrayed his weariness as his lips curled. "My masculine spirits have been adequately propped, thank you, Kate." He hobbled slowly to his tent.

Kate crossed the camp to the containers that housed the fruit. She dropped to a knee, sliding the backpack to the ground. She unzipped it and pulled out a mango. She was about to drop it into the box when she noticed that it was empty.

"'Bout time you got back, Katie Mango-seed." Sawyer ambled in her direction. "We needed those for dinner a bit ago." He reached in her backpack, snagging a fruit. "Good thing I wasn't in the first seatin'

"Any sign of Claire?" Kate slowly transferred her harvest to the container. She was tired. Even fun work was tiring done long enough.

"Same as yesterday." Sawyer dug his nail into the thick skin and began to peel, bits of the mango coming with it. "Tad stringy. Try a different tree tomorrow."

"Is Locke back yet?" She stood. Others were heading towards them. If everyone took some, there'd be none for breakfast.

"Nope." Juice ran down his chin. "It wouldn't upset me a bit if ol' baldy was late 'cause he was draggin' home a nice, big boar. Since Ghandi – "

"Sanjay," corrected Kate picturing the tall Indian man. She pulled a mango into her hand, and moved away from the survivors crowding the produce, Sawyer drifting with her towards the signal fire.

"Proved himself useful doin' that dryin' thing for salt, boar's taken a flavorful turn. Two nights without it, a man starts to know he's hungry."

"What about fish?"

"The fish ain't so bad with that banana leaf thing whatshis name came up with. Especially after Chefy boy added coconut milk."

"Lance. Was there fish?"

"No fish. Reverend Sun's been on the Claire hunt."

"You know, Sawyer," Kate crossed her arms over her chest. "You could – "

"Freckles, I don't fish and I don't hunt," the southerner cut her off. "And at this point, all those people on the Claire Quest everyday are wastin' their time. She ain't nowhere near this camp and no one has the stones to go out further than a day trip."

Kate sighed. She hated it when he made sense. "It just seems wrong not to look for her."

Sawyer tossed the mango pit into the fire. "Wrong is people trampin' around and not lookin' out for their next meal. You feel like doin' all the providin' for them – " he jerked his thumb towards the knot of tents "So they can feel nice and righteous about lookin' for a pregnant girl?"

"That's a pretty cold way of looking at it." The firelight picked up the gold in his hair, she noticed unwillingly.

Sawyer shrugged. "Can't help myself. I'm a realist, sweetheart."

"Realist, huh? So I'll see you picking fruit tomorrow." Kate snapped and strode to her shelter.

She considered tossing the empty backpack to the ground and just going to bed, but experience taught her too well that bugs loved having food delivered more than people. No matter how carefully she loaded the bag, the fruit on the bottom got bruised, usually oozing juice. She did not care to repeat finding the bag's bottom covered with crawling bugs so Kate pulled off her shoes and socks, tossed them near her bedding, and walked to the shoreline.

She dipped the bag into the waves, like she did after every harvest. Holding the bag by the bottom, she relished the cold water on her toes, her ankles. She undoubtedly missed Jack's afternoon visit, she mused, gazing out the path of moonlight on the water. No one liked traipsing through the jungle after dark, opting to bunk down and wait it out if caught out. And that was before Claire's abduction. So she didn't just miss him. Her lips twisted into a wry smile as the thought but she did miss him crossed her mind.

She turned and trudged back to her tent, hanging the pack upside down on the large stick she had pounded into the sand near her tent. She lowered her onto the bed and looked out to the signal fire.

She'd still put her money on being able to outrun Ethan. Running was her talent.

At times to her detriment.

end chp 1