Title: S.O.S.
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: S/K
Warnings: Mild cursing.
Status of fic: WIP
Disclaimer: Lost is not mine!
Author's Notes: An expansion of the events of S.O.S.

She was beautiful. He'd give her that much.

Okay, he'd give her more than that, but only if she forced his hand. She had it too easy with him as it was.

The simple act of her walking toward him made him want to junk his whole damn life and fall to his knees in front of her. He'd put his hands on her hips, look up at that dangerously sweet face, and pledge himself to her.

Lord, if she ever had any idea the romantic nonsense she made him think, she'd eat him alive.

He'd won the rights to his latest reading project from Hurley. The man couldn't bluff to save his life, so Bad Twin was Sawyer's now, and to serve Kate with a little more of the torment she deserved just for being herself, Sawyer pretended to be deeply absorbed in the manuscript.

Kate could see his glee in ignoring her from yards down the beach. Fine. If it was a standoff he wanted, it was a standoff he would get.

She approached, and stood at his airplane seat waiting, hip cocked, until such time as he deigned to raise his head and notice her standing there. She had time. She could wait. In the meanwhile, she allowed herself a slow, appreciative appraisal. If the son of a bitch was just going to sit there, posing, she could for damn sure enjoy it.

A minute passed, and another, and then Frogurt passed by.

"Hey Kate..."

But Neil's request, or greeting, whatever it was, died in his mouth, the victim of a vicious two-headed glare. From a distance, Sawyer and Kate had appeared preoccupied and disconnected, but Frogurt had really interrupted an elaborate flirtation. Frogurt grimaced and limped off, smoking and a bit charred from the explosive impact of the death glare, but happy to have escaped with his life.

Sawyer returned, with great deliberation, to intense scrutiny of his reading material.

Irritated that he was drawing out the charade, Kate kicked Sawyer in the shins.

(That got his attention.)

"Ow! You're so damn violent! What the hell do you want, anyway?"

"Don't you dare squawk at me! You started it!"

"I was sitting here reading, minding my own business--"

"Oh, bite me, Sawyer. Forget it. Enjoy your book. I'm sure it's truly fascinating company."

He watched her spin around, and march to her tent for her bag and a bottle of water, then disappear into the jungle. Another thrilling fruit expedition, no doubt. She was getting an early start. Already sick of Dharma oatmeal for breakfast.

Goddammit.

He felt himself wanting to stand up and greet her five minutes ago. He wanted to say good morning and point out the goosebumps on her arms. He wanted to ask her what brought her to the wrong side of the tracks and watch the corner of her eyes crinkle up.

Was it his pride that always wrecked them, or was it hers? Did the one automatically call up the other? If he let go, would she?

Kate, for her part, could feel an expression of misery harden on her face like a plaster mask. How could she feel so ruined after something so simple and stupid?

In the instant she turned away from him she found that the furrow of her eyebrows had a physical weight that was an actual burden to bear. Her cheek muscles pulled in close to her nose for comfort, and her downturned lips and mouth felt heavy and stiff, as if they were hardening, calcifying. She could only dissuade herself from the expression by physically pushing the pieces of it flat with her hands, literally wiping the feeling off her face. The repairs held for but a moment before misery began reconstruction.

Their fights were patterned by now. Their fights were not quite entirely habit, but they were conducted to certain recognized rhythms. Sometimes Kate felt helpless in the face of it. She wanted them to be good and decent to each other--she wanted to be good and decent to him--but at every turn, she allowed herself to be provoked by him, for better or worse. And so, safely, they continued to attack each other.

They'd established no such patterns for their reconciliations. They put their backs into the blows they struck against each other, but their reconciliations were altogether passive, or even gentle, if Kate cared to be kind to herself.

Sawyer and Kate were brave souls, but they both instinctively shied away from the great risk that rose to greet them when they dared to consider the thing between them. Easier to let it control them. Easier to surrender to the worst whims of their relationship than to overrule them and risk exposing the truth of what they felt for each other.

So, when he'd taunted her with the marshal's case, when they'd abandoned each other before the raft launch, when Sawyer had shamelessly used her to get the guns, every time, they simply let it go. They weren't ready to ask for explanations or apologies or to hold anyone accountable. They only knew they needed each other, and that, given the gift of time, they could get each other back.

They had to have each other back.

An affronted Kate had no fundamental right to resist Sawyer. An exiled Sawyer had no privilege that permitted him to repudiate Kate.

And so, every time, they returned to each other.

It was a simple, barbaric system, but so far, driven by their need and the overwhelming realities of the Island, it had worked. By mutual unspoken agreement, they would leave it at that until circumstances forced a change.

Two hours after Kate had disappeared into the jungle, Sawyer approached her at her shelter. It was noontime, and Kate was eating lunch. Fruit from the jungle and pistachios from the pallet of food. When she saw him strolling toward her tent, she pulled her knees into her chest and looked away from him, pretending there was something newly fascinating about the hammock that hung near her little dwelling.

"I'm hungry," he said.

Kate composed her face into a grimace of forced tolerance.

"And this is my problem how?"

Sawyer dropped to his knees and leaned in to her, until their faces were side-by-side and all it would take was another inch and he could kiss her cheek. Her eyelashes fluttered as she looked down, waiting for his next words, watching his mouth.

"I need your help, sugar."

He delivered this request with a smile, which meant dimples, which drew her eyes to the gray in his beard. She remembered caressing his cheek while he was unconscious, how it was soft and sharp at once, like the shark's skin she'd once touched on a class trip to the Field Museum in Chicago.

He was a shark, himself, and yet, not so cold-blooded.

"You do not," she said.

"Do too. Where I'm from, food comes from the grocery store and water only comes out of faucets. I'm--"

"You're helpless as a kitten, I'm sure. Didn't you once say something to Jack about being in the wild? Well, wild things adapt or die, so you better adapt, asshole."

"Please?" he asked.

Helpless as a wolverine. She snorted. He was absolutely deadly when he turned on the charm. She smiled at him; the first time all day. Sawyer's closed for just a moment and she heard him exhale a tiny breath through his nose. Relief?

"What do you want anyway? " she asked. "All I've got is the fruit you usually complain about--don't you have stacks and stacks of junk food in your stash now, from the pallet?"

"Help me with the mussels."

"The what?"

"Libby cut her hand pulling mussels off the rocks. I figure she and Tubby might be on to something good and I want in before the rest of these piranhas eat 'em all up. And I want you on my team--I figure this is the kind of thing you're built for, Freckles."

She rolled her eyes, and he chuckled, and they had a silent exchange about all the other things she was built for that he would find worthwhile. She shook her head, indulgently, and he offered her a hand up.

She took it, smiling a foolish, happy smile. She leaned her head back and looked him over. "You're a delinquent and a troublemaker, you know that, right?"

"Aw, come on, Freckles, it'll be fun! A few clams, some cheap-ass white wine, a campfire on a beach--it'll be deceptively like paradise. Close your eyes and you might even think I took you someplace nice."

Disentangling her hand from his, Kate grabbed the makeshift bucket she used in the garden and set off toward the beach.

"Come on, cowboy. Let's get this over with."

Behind her, out of her eye line, Sawyer smiled a smile that might be described, by the uncynical, as almost shy. And then he followed her to the tidepools.

"You've got goosebumps," he said, wondering why the silly girl didn't just put on a different shirt if she was cold.

"Sounds like the making of a new nickname."

"Actually, I'm not really sure goosebumps has the right ring to it. I was actually thinking of testing out baby, and seein' if it went over."

"Why don't you save that one for Aaron?"

"Aw, baby, I don't mean nothing by it."

"You sound like a country-fried idiot."

"You love it, baby."

"You sound like Elvis."

"Who doesn't love Elvis?"

"Huge numbers of people who aren't from Tennessee?"

"Everybody loves Elvis, baby."

"Don't call me baby."

With that, she halted at the edge of the water and gripped his bicep. "Hold still," she said, teetering a bit and using him for support as she lifted her right leg up and pulled off one shoe, then lifted her left leg and pulled off its shoe.

He teased her about many things, and there wasn't much about which he wouldn't taunt her, but when she touched him, he made it a point to bite his tongue. Her touching him was a new behavior he strongly wanted to encourage.

Before he'd gone away, they only rarely dared physical contact, and most of those instances were fights or the all-too-infrequent special occasion.

Since he'd returned, they touched frequently: hands found their way onto backs, arms and shoulders brushed against each other, toes that were buried in the sand resurfaced under the arch of another foot.

And she still loved to headbutt him, but it was different now. She'd sneak up on him and gently nudge his shoulder blade or his bicep with her forehead. When she did that, so sweet and gentle and so...them...he wanted to reach back and grab her, but instead he held still, and if he was very lucky, and the stars were aligned, and no one was watching them, she wouldn't pull away after her usual little nod into his shoulder. She'd close her eyes--he'd never seen her face during one of these moments, but he was certain she closed her eyes, because he closed his, too--and she would press her cheek against his back or his arm, the way a cat nuzzled up against a familiar hand.

He found, sometimes, that a few seconds of Kate leaning against him were more memorable and important to him than most of the sex he'd ever had. More than once he caught himself bargaining with the universe, wanting to know the cost of a few more moments of her pressed against his skin.

"Katherine, settle down!" She heard those words from her mother more frequently than any other. Well, except for, when she was younger, "Don't talk back."

She was always energetic. It wasn't a choice she made or something she sought, it was simply her nature, and foundational at that. She liked doing three things at once. She dreaded ponderous people and repetitive tasks. She loved her rambles through the world, even though she heard from friends and strangers that her nearly fidgety nature was a trial for them.

Most times, when challenged about it, she felt she couldn't help herself. She was meant to move, meant to inquire, meant to work--and the more the world demanded "relax!" the more she felt that she had to escape the pressure of the command. Even if she wanted to, she thought, she would never be able to stop, and never really understood the pleasure they all took in sitting still.

Until Sawyer. He never insisted that she breathe. He never told her to settle down. He didn't want to chain her up and lock her in. But oddly, when she was with him, she felt serene. Graceful. Relaxed. Peaceful.

It wasn't that he didn't drive her utterly crazy. He did. And he chased her ass incessantly, which really ought to have made her want to run. But it didn't. There was something about him that made her feel secure. And the shape of that feeling was something she barely remembered, barely knew how to call up, but it was something she discovered she had missed terribly, all this time.

"Watch your step, twinkletoes. Slip on these rocks and you'll crack your head open," said Sawyer.

"Sawyer, I know what I'm doing," said Kate.

"Oh, so you've spent a lot of time in tidepools? You some kind of tidepool expert? I go looking for the world's all-time expert in..."

She liked hearing him as much as she liked actually listening to him. The drawl, the way the words sounded different depending on his expression. The way he talked when he was smiling sounded different than it did when he was sneering about the oh-so-many fools he suffered. The route from his mouth to her ears was a well-worn path and a journey that was always familiar and yet never the same.

He told stories about criminals and whores that seemed like they were from another universe, as divorced from everyday life as their strange existence on this strange island. He teased her. He taught her things. She found herself wishing she was back in the world with occasion to use the things he'd told her: how to outsmart the parking meters in Orlando, Florida; how to find foreclosures in San Diego; the location of the best dim sum in Milwaukee. She thought maybe one of the reasons she felt safe with him was that he, in turn, trusted her enough to emerge from behind his well-cultivated redneck exterior and talk to her about things that no red-blooded hillbilly would ever be caught dead understanding: dim sum, for one. She'd never found his Confederate persona particularly convincing in the first place, but she loved it when he gave up the ghost and sheepishly looked at her from under his eyelashes after confessing something as embarrassing and urbane as a love of good Chinese food.

"...there's no shame in it, Freckles. Admit it. You don't know what the hell you're doing."

"It's not like it's so complicated," said Kate.

"Because if you ask me--"

"I didn't ask you Sawyer. You asked me, in fact. I'm helping out your sorry ass."

"If you expand the definition of 'help' to mean sitting around, looking pretty, and making no progress at all in pulling that clam off that there rock--" said Sawyer.

"They're mussels not clams, and you damn well know it. Aw, hey, look, a hermit crab!"

"Okay, Freckles. That's your problem right there. You lack focus."

"Have you ever even seen a hermit crab before?"

"Can't say I'd ever had the pleasure," he said with a wry twist of his mouth.

"Okay, come here, little guy," said Kate, as she reached under one of the slimy, algae-covered rocks near the mussel beds. "Come on, I won't hurt you." Kate wrested the hermit crab, a red animal set snug in a spiral-shaped shell, from its refuge under the rock. Creature in hand, she scooted over to Sawyer.

"What are you doing! It's gonna bite--it has claws for a reason, crazy lady! Put that thing down--"

"Shut it, willya? Look how cute. See, he's coming back out," said Kate, as the crab emerged from his shell.

"Put Sebastian down and back away from the wildlife. Unless we can eat that thing, just leave it be," said Sawyer, eyeing the crab with a hearty helping of suspicion.

"Put your hand out," said Kate.

"Hell no," said Sawyer.

"I can't wrestle you while I'm holding Sebastian, so just do it," said Kate.

"No."

"Yes. Come on. Please. I swear he won't hurt you," said Kate.

With a tortured sigh, Sawyer put his hand out.

"Now hold still," said Kate, "or he won't come out," as she placed the crab in Sawyer's hand.

"And then how will I ever enjoy the miracle of the little hermit crab?"

Kate rested her chin on her knee, and smiled, ever so slightly, as Sawyer made the acquaintance of Sebastian. The crab walked from one end of his palm to the other, and then tried to crawl around to the back of Sawyer's hand. Sawyer tried his damnedest to look bored and put-upon.

"Okay, that was a blast. Get it off me."

"Aw, I think he likes you."

"Kate!"

"Okay, okay, you're excused," as she rescued Sebastian, returned him to his sandy spot underneath a rock and wiped her wet hands on Sawyer's jean-clad thighs.

"What the hell'd ya do that for?"

"Because you never let me name anything."

"What?"

"Well," said Kate. "You're always giving stuff stupid names, and you've never once asked me what I want to call something."

"Okay, fine, what did you want to name him?"

"Um..."

Kate wracked her brain for a better name than Sebastian--there wasn't one--as she set back to work prying away at the mussels that were so firmly clamped onto the rocks.

"And that, my dear, is why you don't get to name anything," said Sawyer.

"Give me a second."

"That ain't how it works, Freckles."

"You're mean," said Kate.

"Hey, at least I ain't attacking you with snapping sea creatures," said Sawyer.

"It didn't bite you!"

"But it wanted to. I could tell."

Kate could only shake her head at this, and smile. He made her smile so big. How did he do that?

So, with Kate grinning at Sawyer, and Sawyer splashing her with seawater to make her stop looking at him like that, so he wouldn't have to kiss her, they went back to work.

"Ah ha! That's how it's done!" crowed Sawyer, as he plucked an unwilling mussel from the rocky beige shore where he sat with Kate. As he threw his catch into the bucket, Kate, in turn, pried one of the mollusks off the damp rocks.

"Well, look at you! That's, what, four in the last half-hour? Let me call the Guinness book." Sawyer couldn't resist needling her, especially since he was winning their little match, nine to six. Sawyer was nothing if not a master of trash talk.

"Do you want to help or not? Because I've got better things to do with my time." That drew out Sawyer's dimples--Kate's competitive streak was not to be trifled with. If he pushed her too far she'd dump the whole bucket over his head and not speak to him for hours. Better to let her be.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sawyer saw someone approaching them, walking with a firmness of purpose that could not be mistaken. Dammit. Jack. And he was approaching them with a particular agenda. This was not a courtesy call.

"Oh, happy day. Here comes Dr. Giggles."

Heads up, Freckles. Your boyfriend's back in town. Kate, of course, smiled at the jackass in greeting.

"Hey," said Jack, making a point to avoid looking at Sawyer.

"Hey yourself," said Sawyer, as much to save Freckles from wasting words on the good doctor as to assert his own presence.

The rest of the discussion--about guns and lines and prisoners--was conducted as if by rote. It didn't matter what Sawyer said once Freckles knew she'd been beckoned by the chosen one. The minute Jack asked for her, she was as good as gone, with just a brief glance at what she was leaving behind. Her departure, following along after Jack, reminded Sawyer that the day was overcast and damp, as his perspective suddenly broadened, following her footsteps away from the beach.

Sawyer watched her as she gathered her things, while Jack all but tapped his foot in impatience, and then Sawyer made a point of looking away, looking to mussels and sea stars and urchins and goddamn hermit crabs so he wouldn't have to know if she'd bothered to turn and wave goodbye before she vanished away into the dark, wet trees.