Chapter 6/6

Amazing, thought Kate as they moved in single file on the path. Move a mere four feet to the east and behold: a superhighway for animals. Move west, more grass and frustration. Maybe that was what her father had been trying to teach her: life was random.

Locke would be thrilled, she mused, as her eyes swept the ground. The tracks weren't completely washed away in spots, and the scat she spotted here and there put the dot to the sentence. Many animals moved around here: it was a well-stocked supermarket of meat on the hoof just waiting for the hunter to walk in and pick.

"Hey Sawyer," Kate tossed over her shoulder with an impish grin. "Did ya know that poop dries from the inside out?"

"Sassafras, ya know just how to sweet talk a guy," replied Sawyer to her backpack.

Sayid's muffled snort of amusement from behind Sawyer was barely discernable.

"Just thought you should know. It could be a good pick up line. Hey look!" She stopped suddenly, pointing to her feet, causing Sawyer to bump in her shoulder. Sayid stepped to the side, avoiding a pile up.

"A boar print!" she said happily. "New, today. See, it looks kind of like a deer print, but more spread. See the dew claw? "

"I. Don't. Care," said Sawyer slowly. "School's out, sweetheart, the deal is to follow the trail 'til noon. Then home."

Sayid pushed past the man and studied the print. "Aren't boar nocturnal?" he asked, looking up to meet Kate's eyes.

"Usually. But they don't have to be," she answered. "That's the wild. No real rules."

"Lesson noted," drawled Sawyer. "I'll make a point of sharin' that with the doc. Let's get goin'."

"Kate," Sayid stepped off the trail to a small tree trunk. "Is this a tusk rub?" He dropped carefully to one knee, touching the freshly scarred bark. He shifted to give Kate room as she reached his side.

She examined the bark, grooved near knee height with straight lines. "I'd say so. Looks like the ones Locke found during our first hunt."

"Will you two stop!" exclaimed Sawyer. "We know there's boar here. As far as I'm concerned, we can turn around right now. Job done. Whooeee."

"Locke said they find their food by rooting, then they wallow in the dirt. I think they rub their tusks sometimes against a tree next," mused Kate, searching the immediate area. "I wonder if it's always in that order. Hey, over there."

Sawyer sighed dramatically as Kate and Sayid, pushing up to his feet, scurried to disturbed patch of earth on the other side of the path. It was crumbly with the damp, gouges apparent in spots, almost clean swept in other.

"So it ate and wallowed here," said Sayid slowly. "Then trotted over there to … rub against the tree." His eyes scanned the area of green plants. He stopped and squinted, a puzzled expression quickly replaced uncertainty. Using his index finger, he gestured from the wallow to the direction of the rub, indicating a line. "Kate, does that look like a…" He struggled to produce the term. "An escape route….one time trial…a pushdown to you?" He indicated beyond the rub with a flick of his wrist, to the tall plants behind it.

"Mrs. Kotter, give Horshak the damned 'A' and be done with it," snorted Sawyer.

Kate narrowed her eyes, studying the faint stripe of crushed undergrowth. She pulled at her bottom lip with her teeth, and nodded. "Good catch, Sayid. It sure looks like one to me. Must be tracks around here of whatever it was that spooked it."

"You wonder what spooked it?" erupted Sawyer. "Hell Freckles, weren't you on the beach the night of the crash? Did you see the trees fall down?"

"I see no leveled trees," replied Sayid calmly. "I heard nothing earlier. Kate said that the track is fresh. Whatever is …in the jungle did not chase this boar."

"Fine. Maybe it wasn't spooked. Maybe it was pissed. Maybe it was tired of runnin' from a couple of lunkheads like you two," Sawyer wasn't exactly shouting. "Ya go right ahead and look around. I'm followin' this trail. It's gotta lead someplace these boar wanna go. I wanna see that someplace and then I am headin' back to my tent."

He brushed past Kate and stomped down the path.

Kate sighed and studied her feet for a moment, then raised her gaze to meet Sayid's. "He has a point."

It was interesting, she noted, that Sayid probably believed the face that just slid into place while he looked away was a good mask at hiding his emotions. Up to this trip, it was true for her. But now that she had spent steady time with him, she could see past it. The problem was his eyes. And his mouth, if watched closely enough.

Sayid's lips pressed just enough to read irritation. Even if the mouth was missed, those eyes announced the flash of anger that boiled just below the surface. The tiniest widening, the pupils moving from side to side, and she'd swear that the color deepened. She knew that wasn't really possible but would hold to the description.

He should learn to look down when he's angry, she considered as she took a breath. "Well, I know what he's doing. What about you?"

Sayid held her eyes with his. Then he blinked and his face relaxed just slightly. "It makes little sense to wander into the jungle with just a knife and Sawyer, looking for something that frightens boar."

He controlled and Sawyer deflected. Interesting contrast, she decided.

Kate smiled wanly and started after Sawyer. "Let's get this done and get him back to the beach. Then we can plan the next step."

Funny, she mused. The objective to teach how to track - ostensibly boar - hadn't changed. Yet, with the shifting focus from four legs to two then back made this outing feel weeks long. She would have been thrilled to find this trail yesterday. Prints, rootings, rubs, wallows - it was textbook perfect, the ultimate variety of teaching materials. There would have been no question of following today's boar as long as safely possible had they not stumbled across the human trail.

That and slogging hours in the rain, being hungry, thirsty, and wearing the same damp clothes two days straight had reduced her enthusiasm to nil. Sayid and his never-ending quest to know were welcome to spend weeks out here. She agreed with Sawyer, she realized. She wanted her tent, her dry clothes, the surf.

The trail ended at the edge of a smallish lake. There were fewer trees, smaller, allowing more light. The edge of the water was rocky in most places, sand or mud in others. Unlike the other pools she'd seen on the island, this had no waterfall.

Sawyer was stretched out on his belly on a flat rock, water bottle in the water. He climbed to his feet, screwing the cap on the bottle. "Mi casa es su casa," he said, spreading his arms. "And it's got cold runnin' water."

Kate smiled wryly, and scrambled up a flattish ledge. She dropped and unzipped the knapsack as she moved so the water bottle was in hand as she reached the water's edge. Sayid advanced to a different spot, and began to drink his fill.

"So," continued Sawyer, jumping from the stone and strolling in her direction. "Let's see now: learned how to use my tracking stick. Learned how to track Mohammed. Learned how to see shiny grass. Learned to find the way to Porky's place. So best I can tell, I successfully completed Kate's Trackin' 101."

"Where is that tracking stick?" asked Kate, peeking under her shoulder to see him.

"Dunno. It don't matter. Don't need it."

"You got lucky."

"Knew what I was lookin' for, didn't I? Smart enough to recognize it when I saw it, wasn't I? That don't sound like luck to me," snorted Sawyer.

From the corner of her eye, Kate saw Sayid stand. She gave him her full attention and watched him amble near the lake's edge. He squatted and examined the ground. She chuckled to herself and returned to filling her bottles.

When she slipped the last into the backpack, she spotted Sawyer wandering not far from the trail. Close to the door, she noted with an internal smirk. It wasn't an act. The man was done with this project.

"Hey Freckles!" he called, beckoning with his hand. "Got some take out up here!"

"Take out?" She hurried to him, aware of the weight of the water on her back.

Sawyer stood near a carcass of a boar that whole would feed the camp well for two or three days. Flies buzzed nosily about the deep gashes on its flank and dried splatters of blood. The neck and part of the back were all but gone.

She didn't consider herself squeamish but it was unexpected. She made a sound of disgust, and took an involuntary step back.

"Boar attack their own?" asked Sawyer, moving slowly around the body.

She could easily picture him poking it with a stick or kicking at it if she weren't there to witness it. "Sure but I don't think they're cannibalistic," said Kate, her upper lip curling. She lifted her eyes to his and then back to the boar.

He rounded the rear end. "This ain't no boar print," said Sawyer, jerking his chin. "It's big." He peered at it. "Got four - five! - toes."

"Is it human?" She gave the head some berth, finding it impossible not to stare at the mangled snout and mouth as she closed the distance between them.

"Needs to trim his nails if he is," Sawyer crouched for closer study. He straightened, apprehension clouding his eyes. "It ain't what I'm thinkin', is it?"

Her stomach tightened. She reached his side, dropped to one knee and stared at the indentation. Her throat tightened. She locked eyes with Sawyer. "What are you thinking?" She didn't want to say it.

He swallowed. "I don't have the gun." He swallowed again and tried for indifference. "Don't have no bullets anyhow." He almost hit the mark. Too bad she knew him as well as she did.

"It's a little different than I remember," she returned her attention to the print. "What's that between the toes?"

"It's bear," he announced, looking around the trees and lake. "It's a damn polar bear, ain't it?"

"It's a bear," she admitted, standing, and following suite. "Since we know one polar bear was here, it's no real stretch for there to be two. We should get out of here."

"It just ate. It ain't hungry. Right?"

"I don't know much about polar bears," she said quietly, almost whispering, suddenly wishing for Arzt. Somehow, she knew that he could produce the information she wanted. Were polar bears like grizzlies, storing their food? This was a very open area, indicating the answer was negative. So... were polar bears opportunistic hunters? Kill when can?

She would ask Arzt as soon as they got back to camp, she decided. Either way, standing around a fairly fresh bear kill was not a good idea. She licked her lips, feeling her heart pound, and reached for Sawyer's hand. She took a breath as his warm fingers wrapped around hers. "Let's get Sayid and go," her voice fell to a whisper.

They backed away from the dead animal, both craning their necks, as they made constant scans of the area. As they reached the edge of the beach, Kate turned. Where was Sayid?

Curiosity killed the Sayid, supplied her mind. She squashed the thought viciously.

"Sayid!" shouted Sawyer.

Think think think, screeched her mind. Bear. How to deal with bears. Noise. Yes. Noise. Bears are afraid of humans.

She flashed on the image of Sawyer's dead polar bear and its mouth full of huge teeth lying dead in the valley, before they heard the French transmission. The beast had rushed them despite the loud argument ongoing between Sayid and Sawyer.

The Iraqi stood. He was some distance around the lake. The trees were taller at that end, she noted distractedly.

Sawyer waved. "Gotta get outta here! C'mon!"

Sayid brushed his knees and started toward them.

She heard it before she saw it, of course. The crashing of plants. The low throated growl. She whirled around, releasing Sawyer's hand. Where? Where was it coming from?

Sayid seemed to hear it as well, looking wildly about. He seemed to be backing towards the trees.

Don't run don't run, her father's mantra echoed about her brain. Running evokes their chase instinct. You can't outrun a bear. Fight a black bear, curl up for a grizzly. Throw rocks at a black bear, fetal position for a grizzly.

What about polar bears? The son of bitch never mentioned polar bears.

It erupted between them and Sayid. The observant part of her mind determined it close to the size of Sawyer's kill. It swung its head back and forth. She knew bears had an amazing sense of smell - her father swore by a mile - so it wasn't just catching their scents now. How did a bear determine what to kill? What to chase?

Don't run don't run. You can't outrun a bear.

Sawyer grabbed her waist and spun her so they were no longer facing the animal. She stumbled; she hadn't expected that. He ran past her, clamping his hand around her wrist, pulling her behind him.

Don't run don't run. You can't outrun a bear.

She opened her mouth to protest. Sawyer yanked hard - she wasn't running all out - and she tripped. His hold on her broke. Unbalanced, he fell to the ground.

Kate, balance regained, spun around.

She did not see the bear.

She did not see Sayid.

No no no! screamed a voice inside her head. She began to run towards the end of the lake.

A weight hit her. Arms encircled her legs. She hit the ground hard, knocking all wind from her. When she could, she twisted, pounding fists at her captor, struggling to free her legs. She could do damage by kicking.

Sawyer grunted. "Dammit Kate, think! You can't do anything for him." He rolled away from her.

She pressed her face into her hands and turned on her back. She could see the treetops, the sky. She sat up. No no no, wailed her mind. She brought her knees to her chin, dropping her face against them. She sobbed. No no no.

Sawyer rubbed a soft circle on her back, then slipped his hand under her arm. He pulled her up. "We have to get out of here."

Her legs cooperated as her mind careened wildly. Sayid had to gotten away. He had to be fine. Nothing could happen to Sayid.

They entered the jungle away from the trail - a new pushdown, she thought with a wild mental laugh - Sawyer leading, her hand tightly encased by his. Her mind began to clear as they tramped slowly, trying to be as quiet as possible.

She stopped. "No."

Sawyer sighed and faced her. He cupped her elbows with his hands. "No? Then what? Go after him? Watch that ... bear..." His voice cracked and he looked away.

"No," she said with force. "We go back. We don't leave him." Jack went back for Charlie when the Thing ate the pilot. She went back for Jack. She would go back for Sayid.

"Freckles," Sawyer's voice held a timbre she hadn't heard before. Kindness? He pulled her into his chest. It rumbled when he spoke. "That bear ... he couldn't outrun that bear. He had - has a bum leg."

"No one can outrun a bear," she looked up with eyes swimming with tears.

He frowned and nodded. He closed his eyes and lightly kissed her forehead. "Yeah," he whispered, sliding his arms around her shoulders.

She pressed her face against his shoulder, her arms tightening around his waist.

They stood, holding one another for some time. The small animal noises slowly resumed their volume. There were no more crashing sounds, no growls.

"We go back," said Kate, stepping away, her eyes on her shoes.

"He's a realist, our Omar," rejoined Sawyer. "He'd figure out the odds of survivin' a bear attack - in his head and in French - and he'd tell you to go back to camp. Let's do that. Let's get Locke and come back. Hell Freckles, even if we find him and he's still alive, we won't be able to do a thing to help him. We couldn't get him back to camp alive.

"I'm going back." she whispered it. She wouldn't say it, but couldn't stop the thought 'he wouldn't die alone'.

He ducked his head and blew a long breath towards the heavens. "How long do we wait?"

"You can scare a black bear off with rocks. And sticks. If it's not defending its cub."

"Ya did notice that bear wasn't black?"

"Let's each get a stick, and some rocks."

Sawyer fixed his gaze over her head. After a time, he sighed. "Freckles, I want you on my side when the monster comes outta the jungle. If ya have one of those kiwis, throw it first."

They scavenged until two hefty branches - not too heavy to handle - were harvested. They left the jungle cautiously, and gathered hand sized stones from the beach, dropping them into Sawyer's backpack.

They trudged in silence to where Sayid was last seen standing. Sawyer touched her arm. "Listen, you head back to camp. Get Locke. Get Jack. I'll find ...him."

She balled her fists. "Goddamn it! What's with you men? You're not safer out here than me! You go get Locke! You go get Jack! I'm finding Sayid." Her voice tapered off. "Sawyer, stop it. One minute you're going along. Next minute you're not."

Sawyer didn't smile. "Promise me we ain't playin' heroes."

She didn't blink or bother to cross her fingers. "Promise."

"Lead on, MacDuff." Resignation underscored his voice.

The bear's trail was easy to follow. Its weight running tore small plants from the ground. Those that stay planted were bent, torn, maimed. She ignored the tingling down her neck as her imagination supplied the terror of Sayid's run.

The trail was short - maybe five yards - and ended at the trunk of a heavily branched tree.

Sawyer put a hand on her shoulder. They stopped a few feet before, straining ears for sound of danger.

Quiet.

They exchanged glances and at her nod, proceeded closer to the tree. The bark was scratched, clawed. With no problem, she could picture the wild attempts of the Iraqi to evade the mighty paw swipes. She closed her eyes, a sob fighting to escape her throat. She pushed it back. Later. In her tent. In her safe tent on the beach.

Sawyer was at her side, hand on her arm. He indicated with his head away from the tree. "Looks like ... It's less flattened, like maybe it was slower but it goes that way." Sawyer pointed to their left.

She bit her bottom lip, straightened her back and stalked to the tree. She stared at it for a moment, then blinked to actually see it.

She covered her mouth with her hand and turned to the direction of the continuing trail, expecting to see drag marks. The bear had gone this way, that was clear. But there was no sign that it was pulling a bloody Sayid with it. Had it left him behind? Threat eliminated, move on? Were polar bears were like grizzlies?

She trotted around the tree, steeling herself for a horrific find. Her foot struck an object that rolled with her weight. She fell to her knees. She whipped around and grabbed the offending article. It was one of Sayid's shoes. She dropped onto her rump, spotted a water bottle, next to it, scattered were kiwis. Contents from his backpack. Where was he? She looked up.

There. Her height. Blood. On the tree.

She felt kicked in the stomach. This time the sob choked her, shook her shoulders. What was it about Sayid that she kept expecting the impossible?

"Freckles!" Sawyer was coming from the other direction. He pointed up.

Her mind suddenly supplied the body of the pilot suspended in the branches. Charlie

hanging in the banyan grove. Had the bear flung Sayid's body up there? Her mind argued against the possibility as she raised her eyes.

Sayid was seated on a large branch, resting against the trunk, legs dangling, about ten feet.

She shouted his name, scrambling to her feet. There was no response. Kate could see streaks of blood on the bark. Had he made it that far only to bleed to death? She circled the tree again, studying it, Sawyer at her heels.

She shed the backpack without thought, planted her booted foot in on a low branch, and hefted herself up. She climbed quickly, carefully ignoring the blood. She could clearly see the source. Sayid's right calf was mauled, his khakis hanging in shreds from the knee, blood covering his toes.

She grasped the branch over her head and pulled up. The trunk of the tree was between them. She could see the top of his head, legs slack, arms loosely wrapped about the trunk. He must be leaning into the trunk, his head down.

Kate scooted close to the trunk, locking her knees around the branch, anchoring herself with her right hand on a close branch. She lifted her left hand and hesitatingly touched Sayid's shoulder.

He moaned, his arms tightening around the trunk.

She gasped, losing her hold and almost falling. She caught her balance and reached to him again. "Sayid?"

"Kate!" shouted Sawyer. "What's going on?"

She called to Sayid again. Monkeylike, she made her way through the branches until she was on the same side as the injured man. From here, she could see his backpack sliced almost neatly, a flap hanging open. She tested each perch carefully until she could snake her arm around one of his. "How are you?"

He turned his bearded face to her. His pallor was ghastly. He smiled faintly. "I am injured." His voice was scratchy, soft, halting. "The bear tore my calf with its claws." He turned his head back, resting his forehead against the bark.

Sawyer called angrily for her to answer him. She reported Sayid's condition, adding that she needed help getting him down.

She could hear Sawyer grunt as he maneuvered through the branches. She stroked Sayid's arm as she listened to Sawyer's progress. "Are you in a lot of pain?" She realized the question was inane.

Sayid shook his head minutely. "What do they say in the films? Just a scratch." His speech was slow. His eyelids stayed closed, his arms relaxing their hold. "To answer a question you once asked, this polar bear could not climb trees. I believe that was to my benefit."

Sawyer's head popped up by her shoes. "So chief, ya raced a bear, huh?" He muscled his way to the side of Kate. He looked at her questioningly.

She shrugged. He tried a few questions to Sayid who responded once. Kate shook her head at Sawyer. Sayid hadn't opened his eyes since she first arrived. If it was too much effort for that, holding his own weight was not possible. Telling Sayid that they would be back, she indicated for Sawyer to join her on the ground.

She had seen vines on the trail, she said as her feet touched solid earth. They could use those as rope. Thread them through the backpack straps, wrap them around his waist. Sawyer could determine which branch to use as a pulley so he could stay on the ground, control the vine and she could climb down with Sayid as he was lowered.

Sawyer argued against her going into the jungle alone. She responded with the obvious: she knew where to find the vines. Agonizingly aware of time passing, she relieved Sawyer of his knife, emptied her backpack, and ran.

People went into shock from blood loss. People died from shock. She was brutally aware of these facts. She had no idea how much blood Sayid had lost, but she knew they had to get him back to Jack and the infirmary.

Now that she was moving and planning, her head was clear of all fear. She raced across the lake area and into the jungle at the trail. The vines weren't too far in and she found them with little trouble. As she hacked down the thickest of them, it suddenly occurred to her that the lake with its rocks reminded her of an old city zoo cage with polar bears. She remembered the bears lying on the slabs, looking miserable in the heat, and wondering why they just didn't dive into the water, that it would have to be cooler.

She bundled the vines and dashed back to Sawyer. She dropped the cuttings at his feet, plopped next to them and began to weave them into the proper length rope. He watched her for a few minutes, and then started on the other end.

The need to hurry - Sayid needed medical attention, the bear could return at any moment - had to be balanced against a strong rope. The tension filled her stomach, threatened her lungs. She wondered if she had five seconds to spare for full panic. They worked in silence, exchanging glances with each other, up the tree, around them, straining to listen for any sound of return.

Sawyer stood. "Done," he announced.

She walked the length of the new vine, Sawyer staying still, and they tested its strength by pulling hard. With his nod, vine attached to her belt, she scrambled once more up to Sayid.

Once all was in place, she whispered to Sayid to let go, then yelled to Sawyer. She guided Sayid as best she could without losing her grip, moving to the next lower branch as needed. It seemed to take hours as she waited to hear a snap of the vine, the rip of the backpack, the crash of the bear, but Sawyer smoothly lowered Sayid without incident. She felt her lungs work for what felt like the first time as Sawyer wrapped his arms around Sayid to ease the injured man gently to the ground.

Kate jumped. There was no time to savor the relief that flooded her. She felt like a bear was breathing down her neck. "We gotta get out of here now," she said as Sawyer sawed at Sayid's backpack straps, tossing it away and gently lowering him flat.

"How about a little first aid," replied Sawyer, now using his knife to cut away the shredded pant material. "Gimme some water."

She hurried to the pile of bottles and tossed him one. Sawyer gingerly poured fluid down the flayed calf. Sayid gasped and started, eyes now open wide. He looked wildly about.

"Hey skipper," Sawyer said softly. "Got ya outta there. Just relax now."

Kate knelt by the dark-haired man, taking his hand in hers, gently stroking his hair. "It's okay," she smiled. "We're going back to camp now."

Sayid met her eyes and nodded. He lowered his head, closing his eyes once more.

"Let's get this bleeding stopped," muttered Sawyer. "Pressure, right Freckles?"

Sawyer pulled off his shirt and pressed it against the gashes that still bled. They worked together, calming Sayid as needed. She was sweating and panting. She hated blood.

Sawyer impressed her. He was gentle and effective. Once they agreed the bleeding was contained, he rinsed the shirt and carefully wrapped it around Sayid's calf. Kate aided the prone man, bolstering his head while he slowly and thirstily drank.

Sawyer stood. It wasn't the best bandaging job in the world, he observed. But it would keep the flies off.

Time to go, he announced. Kate reloaded her backpack with the remaining filled bottles. She scanned the area once more, then joined Sawyer. They carefully lifted Sayid to his feet, slipped his arms over their necks, and left the tree behind them.

A small groan was the only sound Sayid made. She wasn't sure if he was conscious. She rather hoped that he wasn't. It would be easier on the Iraqi if he wasn't.

It was slow, almost tortuous going. Kate was aware of every jostle, every uneven step. It brought to mind the long trip home from the hospital after Diane had her hysterectomy; her mother clutching a bed pillow tightly to her incision, crying out with every pothole Patrick failed to avoid.

Once they regained the cover of the jungle, the bear's breath left her neck. They stopped once past the original boar print, panting with exertion, muscles screaming so that as they were lowering Sayid, a muscle in her shoulder cramped and she dropped him the last foot despite her attempts not to. She fell to her knees, patting him frantically.

"Sorry sorry," she cried.

Sayid shook his head once, eyes closed.

"Can't do this all the way back to camp," Sawyer rotated his neck, flexing his shoulders, rubbing his bicep. "Got a plan B?"

Kate passed him water. He was right.

She argued against his suggestion that one of them wait here with Sayid while the other fetch help. Splitting up was never the answer as far as she was concerned.

"Well," retorted Sawyer, "We can't use an armchair and unless you got a jetpack on ya I don't know about…."

The answer came to her: a litter.

They could use branches as the frame and weave vines for a bed. Sawyer sighed. Well, it worked in every western he ever saw, he admitted, rising to get the materials. He was an old hand at picking out sticks by now, he assured Kate, and stepped into the brush.

Kate pulled her shirt over her head, soaked it with water and wiped Sayid's brow. He was muttered incoherently in something other than English, - was it Arabic? - his eyes locked on hers. She helped him drink, slowly.

"Shhh," she whispered, cupping his cheek. "We'll get you back to Jack. I'm sorry we can't do much for you right here. But we'll get you back to Jack."

"Well there's a new look for you, Freckles," Sawyer returned, two stout branches being dragged after him. "Next time I cut myself shavin', I know where I'm headin'."

She told him what a pig he was and as Sawyer plunged back into the brush, announcing he spotted vines for the webbing, she realized how much better it felt to have Sawyer behaving like Sawyer instead of Jack. She peeled the bark from the branches, murmuring nonsense steadily to Sayid, who seemed to slip in and out of consciousness.

Sawyer returned with armfuls of vine. They applied themselves to the litter, weaving around the branches a mat Sayid's width. They worked well together, she noted, taking the knife he offered before she asked for it.

"Oughta go in business together," commented Sawyer. "If Omar won't build coconut cars, then litters'll be the transportation of the island. I can see a real boomin' market. Lots of profit."

She didn't ask if profit was all he thought about. She knew better now. Had she always?

Dusk was falling as they finished. The injured man cried out as they lifted him onto his conveyance. Kate remembered why she never wanted to go into the medical field as she tore at her lip with her teeth. The bottom lip was raw.

She pulled on her shirt. It was still damp. Things kept staying the same.

They moved to the head of the litter, took a branch each and began to pull.

"Looked easier when John Wayne did it," grunted Sawyer.

"Did they have a horse?" she retorted.

They tried for gentleness initially, then realizing the impossibility of it, picked up the pace. It had to be like pulling off a Band-Aid, reasoned Sawyer. Just get it over with.

Through trial and error, they established a rhythm that made good progress. Mentally it was difficult to take breaks, but their arms and legs demanded them. They rationed the water, not certain of their travel time, rubbed each other's arms, talked to Sayid's non-responsive form. Sawyer checked the wounded leg his first chance. It looked like the bleeding stopped, he reported.

On the last rest before they left the jungle, Sayid began to babble unintelligibly.

"Ain't French," stated Sawyer with authority. "Wants a good stiff drink. Then a woman. Sounds like he thinks he has a future."

It was the shortest stop that they made.

They broke the jungle's edge at full dark. As best Kate could tell, it was close to where they had entered... just yesterday? It felt like eons, like she had aged fifty years in the time they were gone.

They carefully eased the litter to the ground. Sayid continued to murmur. She made out 'Allah' as she sank thankfully next to the structure. She patted his arm, touched his hair. "I don't wanna be John Wayne anymore," she pulled up her knees and leaned her head against them.

"Gimme me a drink," sighed Sawyer, collapsing full length next to her. "What are we - three hours from camp?"

Kate sat up and wiggled out of her backpack. She handed him a bottle. "It's the last of it." She draped her arms around her knees as she pressed her cheek against them.

"I'm an opportunistic bastard. I don't care what I want in thirty minutes," muttered Sawyer, propping up on his elbows. He took a pull and offered it to her.

She considered, then shook her head. "I didn't know my shoulders could be this tired."

"Don't think about it, Freckles. We're almost there." He finished the bottle.

"Liar." She slipped the bottle and cap into the bag. Needing to keep all resources intact was a bear - she clamped down on the thought and pushed herself up.

"Yeah, well. Yeah." He groaned, his head falling back, exposing his throat. She offered a hand. He glared, then took it, rising stiffly.

"We're getting closer," she said to Sayid as she wrapped her hand around the branch. At Sawyer's nod, she leaned into it and they started across the meadow. They were closer to the beach, she said to herself. Each step was closer to the beach.

Sawyer spotted it first. She didn't believe him when he said he said fire. They didn't stop pulling, arguing until he roared that she look over there, dammit!

It was a flame. A torch? A camp fire?

Like moths, they moved towards it. Had they not been so tired, they would have run. Probably best for Sayid that they didn't, said Sawyer. They shouted instead, aware that they probably weren't within earshot.

Two dark forms emerged from the night, running towards them, another behind it with a torch, hurrying. Not bears, was her first thought. The shapes became Jack, Boone and Locke bearing the torch, babbling with questions, exclamations; surrounding them. It was noise to her as Locke gently took her pole of the litter. She looked for Sawyer. He had surrendered his job to Boone and was telling Jack over and over that Sayid's leg was hurt. Jack squatted near Sayid's leg and unwrapped the shirt from it.

Boone pushed a water bottle into her hand. She smiled her thanks and drank. He followed it with a mango. A sweet, ripe wonderful mango. She considered proposing, licking the juice from her lips. Jack rose, an obvious signal as they all moved. She and Sawyer were following the litter. It was good.

Jack dropped back. He took Kate's hand, rubbing it. It was a medical touch, she realized, and listened to his questions. Sawyer let her provide most of the answers, offering little as possible.

She couldn't read Jack tonight. Right now, she didn't care. She would again. Probably as soon as tomorrow. But right now whether Jack was either irritated, or guilty about something, or scared didn't matter to her. They had Sayid. He was alive. Sawyer came through. How Jack felt about her didn't matter tonight.

She was happy to see a roaring campfire, Locke's handiwork she was sure, was their destination. As Locke and Boone lowered the litter, Jack crouched by Sayid's leg, medical bag in hand.

She sat next to Sawyer, watching Jack. The flash of firelight now and again had to be a needle, she realized. She gazed into the fire, recalling sewing Jack's flesh. She shuddered. That was beyond eons again. She glanced at Sawyer, "Are you cold?"

He shook his head. "Fine, Freckles." He lifted his arm and she scooted closer, tucking in against him. His bare skin felt cool.

"Still lying, I see."

He smiled wearily at her, a real smile. It was good.

Jack closed his bag with a snap and with Boone's help wrapped blankets around Sayid. The firelight reflected Sayid's eyes. He was conscious. He sipped the water Jack offered.

Jack stood, said something and walked over to them. "You're sure you weren't hunting?" he asked with an edge to his voice.

"The bear mighta been. We weren't," said Sawyer.

"Will he be okay?" asked Kate.

"Nothing's one hundred percent here," said Jack. "But I think so. You did a good job stopping the bleeding." He glanced over at Sayid. "He's a bit shocky, but should be okay. Miraculously, no major blood vessels were hit." He rubbed the heels of his palms into his eyes. "He might have a limp."

"Might not," offered Locke calmly, gazing beyond the fire. "This island offers miracles. They should be accepted with grace."

Jack looked at him hard, then shook his head. "If no one objects, I'd like to get Sayid back to the caves as soon as possible."

Locke extinguished the fire then took his place at the litter. He and Boone lifted on count. She and Sawyer carried the torches, Jack following at Sayid's head.

"We'll talk tomorrow about the boar," said Locke to her.

She nodded. Talking seemed impossible right now. She glanced over to Sawyer. He smiled again. They were done.

Finish