The waves softly caressed the sandy shoreline behind her as Kate approached Jack, noticing even from several yards away that his back was tense as he silently chopped wood in a clearing off the coast. Whether or not he heard her coming, he remained intently bent over his work, his gaze never wavering from his axe hitting the wood. She watched him silently for a second, perspiration causing his shirt to cling to his back muscles, which flexed as he pulled the axe from the wood and brought it back above his head.
Taking a deep breath, she sat down on a tree stump beside him, her heart beginning to pound at their proximity. As she entered his line of sight, he turned and looked at her, quickly reverting his eyes to his work when she met his gaze. "Hey," he said quietly, his voice sounding unusually rigid.
"Hey," she responded She looked around awkwardly for something to say. "It's going to rain any second," she said lamely. His slight nod was the only evidence that had heard her, because he didn't respond. She saw his eyes glance up at the sky, noticing that it were indeed darkening.
Her memory flashed to the last time those hazel eyes had looked at her, full of surprise, tenderness, and confusion as she had pulled away from him in the clearing only yesterday.
She could still feel his heart pounding against hers, his mouth eagerly searching hers while his body held back. Looking up into his eyes after she had stepped back, witnessing the absolutely lost quality in them...She had to escape. She knew if she stood there one more second, so close to a man who was miles away, her lips still aching for his to be pressed against hers, that she would never be able to bear it when he broke the eye contact, pulled back as he always did.
So she had responded the only way she knew how to, the only way that made sense. She ran.
Now, sitting near him on the contrastingly calm beach, her courage suddenly wavered. What could she possibly say to him that would make things right between them? How could she explain years of her life with a few words? How could she explain anything about her past to Jack, and watch those sensitive eyes fall, the light in them fade? How could she speak the words that would undoubtedly enlarge the gulf between them?
"Jack," she started, her voice surprisingly steady considering the emotional tumult she was in. "I want to explain...about earlier. I..."
He turned to her briefly, and she saw himself willing his expression to steady as he looked at her, his intense, hopeful eyes betraying his otherwise calm features. He stopped chopping, but stood there, half-facing her, still breathing heavily from his labor. After a few seconds, he shook his head as if casually dismissing her words.
"I get it, Kate." There was an unfamiliar quality in his voice. Almost like defeat. Faltering in her courage, she struggled to find words.
"It's not that I didn't...I was just..." Something in her words must have triggered something in him. His expression darkened as he turned to her, nothing hopeful in his look now.
"I get it, Kate. You were upset and exhausted, and I was there. We don't have to do this." Shaking his head again, he turned back to the pile as if to begin again. The clouds had opened and rain now fell steadily on them, the sky darkening increasingly. She didn't notice.
She stood up, causing him to pause again. "No, it's not that. You actually think-"
"What the hell am I supposed to think?" he suddenly blurted, dropping the axe to the ground and turning to face her more directly. His eyes exuded fury and hurt. She blinked, taken off guard. He didn't wait for her to respond. "You leave Sawyer in a heap on the floor when you're supposed to be taking care of him, have an emotional breakdown when I confront you about it, then kiss me? What the hell, Kate?"
Having regained some of her composure, she opened her mouth to speak, but he held up a hand to stop her. "Do you think I haven't seen you sitting over Sawyer in the hatch, refusing to rest or leave?"
She rose to her feet, glaring up at him. "He almost died, Jack. Are you actually chastising me for caring for a sick man?"
At this irrefutable logic, he paused, shut his mouth, then shook his head and began to speak again. "It's not that simple, Kate, and you know it. You think if it had been Locke that you would have spent hours staring anxiously at his face, kissing his forehead, offering to sit with him shift after shift? I'm not blind, Kate. I see how you've played us against each other. I see how you enjoy being the center of attention, using me and Sawyer to get what you need."
Shocked at this sudden and uncharacteristic outburst, she stared at him. "I don't-"
"How'd you get the gun case, Kate? How'd you get the key? Who dug up the dead marshal? Who convinced Sawyer to give you the case in the first place?"
At the mention of that horrible day that had ended with her clutching Tom's airplane by the fire, she glared up at Jack, her bewilderment turning quickly into anger. "Don't make me out to be some kind of..."
Taking advantage of her momentary lapse, Jack flashed her a malicious look. "Some kind of what...a criminal? A con artist? Because I'd say that'd be pretty accurate, Kate. You make damn sure that you remind everyone—and yourself—just who the criminal on this island is. That's what you're doing with Sawyer, right?"
She gasped involuntarily at his harshness, at the bitter gleam in his eye as he spat the words at her. She had never seen him so out of control.
Realizing her shock, his expression softened somewhat, and he took a step back. She took courage from the gap in his armor, her face hardening. She didn't bother to wipe the rain from her face.
"You are blind," she hissed, stepping closer to him. She was nearly trembling with rage. "If you can't see that it's not about Sawyer. It's never been about Sawyer."
Though his expression softened, he shook his head angrily. "You don't have to work the spin, Kate. I'm done." He turned and walked away, kicking up wet sand behind him. Now furious, she sprinted after him, grabbing his arm and pulling him to face her as the storm intensified.
"I meant, it's about you, Jack. You're the one who brings up my past whenever I've done something to disappoint you. You're the one who reminds me that I'm a fugitive every time I look into those disappointed eyes. You told me that everyone gets a fresh start on this island...so where's mine, Jack?" He blinked in the rain, suddenly speechless.
Seeing that he was too baffled to respond, she continued. "How dare you write me off. Did you ever think that maybe you're afraid to see me as anything else? That you can't allow yourself to see gray...just black and white? How dare you paint me as the hardened criminal. Who's more of a criminal on this island, Jack? Who stood by and watched Sayid torture an innocent man? It wasn't me, I assure you."
He smiled bitterly. "No, you were too busy making out with that innocent man, Kate."
"You're only seeing what you want to see," she snapped. "You're clinging to a coerced kiss that happened weeks ago and forgetting that it wasn't Sawyer that I kissed yesterday." Her eyes flashed, and she unconsciously ground her teeth in anger as she spun on her heel. Suddenly the roles were reversed--she was hurrying away and Jack was left standing silently for a moment, letting her advance toward the jungle as he stood fuming.
Seconds later, as she hurried away, her feet slipping in the wet sand, she felt Jack's hand on her arm, and he spun around, falling against her as she instinctively leaned against a tree for support. His chest rising and falling with his rapid breathing, he looked into her hurt and furious eyes, his expression suddenly very different from what it had been seconds before.
Without warning, he pressed himself against her and kissed her hard on the mouth, and she felt herself dizzying despite being firmly held against the tree. Snapping out of her brief haze, she pushed him away, both of them panting from their argument and the sudden kiss. She glared up at him, suddenly more furious than ever.
"Get away from me," she blurted, barely able to breathe. He shook his head.
"It's you who sees what you want to see, Kate," he said, raising his voice despite their proximity to be heard over the rain. "It's you who makes him your ally while I'm the stern one." Seeing her about to speak, he raced ahead. "He's never felt for anyone over his whole life what I feel for you in a single day. You think I judge you because you judge yourself. You want me to look down on you, so you can feel better when he looks up at you. You think he understands you because he doesn't know that you're more than a fugitive, so it would never occur to him to chastise you. He doesn't care enough about you to actually argue with you, just enough to bicker and spur you on. And you play the criminal with me because you think you're base like he is, and that you deserve him."
"He--"she started, pushing him off her. He gently touched her arms and she stood rooted to the spot, unable to move but trembling from the rain and the tension that coursed through her body.
"But you were right, Kate--it's not about him. It's about me. I'm the one who has seen what good you're capable of. I've seen the rapport you've built with Sun, how you relate to people in a way I never can. I see your loyalty and your courage, and your spirit. Things that you know he can't see, and that's why it terrifies you."
He tightened his grip on her arms, and she glared up at him, softening but not ready to concede anything. She looked away, thinking of the years and years of cold motels and lying to strangers about every personal detail. She thought of the way he looked at her sometimes, the honesty in his eyes when he thought she wasn't looking, the man who respected her and admired her. He was right...she was terrified. "There are some things you can't fix, Jack," she said quietly, her voice barely audible over the rain.
He took her face in his hands, bringing their faces together until they were inches apart. "It's not about fixing, Kate. Not this time. This is more than that. And you know it."
She bit her lip, for the first time allowing herself to look deeply into his eyes without hiding behind the shield of her own glare. What she saw made her feel suddenly weak, and she leaned hard against the tree to disguise her sudden faintness.
"I'm tired of this love triangle, Kate," he said suddenly, stepping close to her once again.
She thought of her friendship with Sawyer, how even during their tender moments there was always something lacking in his gaze, always something missing in his voice. He never looked at her with the quiet admiration that Jack did, or protected her interests. She knew, as she had always known, that Sawyer was a part of herself, and when she was with him she felt that together they were like a whole person.
But as she looked up into Jack's face, his eyes squinting in the rain, shirt clinging to the arms that held her, she realized that when she was with Jack, she didn't need him for her to be a complete person. His steady gaze and kind words reminded her that despite the years of hiding and running and being terrified, she was Kate. And she realized that was enough.
She and Sawyer were might be a complete person. She and Jack were two whole individuals, looking out to sea together.
Her anger and angst quickly melting as if the rain had washed it away, she raised her hands to Jack's face, bringing him close to her as he had done only moments before.
"There never was a triangle, Jack," she said, resting her fingers on his arms. "That's what you don't get. It's been a straight line the whole time...with both of us desperately trying to create as many obstacles as we can between us."
In spite of the tenderness of the moment, he grinned down at her, chuckling. "A straight line," he repeated, as if considering it. Some of the intensity of the moment melting when she was face to face with his grin, she allowed a deep smile to spread across her rain-streaked face and moved her fingers up his neck, running them through his wet hair. Awakened by her touch, he leaned toward her, drawing her to him.
"A straight line," he whispered in her ear, running his hands over her back and waist as he gently pulled her to him. She felt her senses drown in the sweet haze that surrounded her when their lips met, each of their hearts more terrified--and more open--than they had ever been.
As they pulled apart to smile briefly at each other before their lips met again, she consciously surrendered her cautiousness and reserve, closing her eyes as she become lost in the beauty, the drama, the fate that was her and Jack.