Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or places in this story (said characters/places are property of ABC and the Lost writers/creators).

Look After You

It's raining that Thursday morning, the day he leaves. The Sudan is parked in the driveway, headlights on, motor running, windshield wipers slowed for the duration. "When will you be back?" she asks, her voice trembling, part of longing, part of fear.

A knot of guilt tightens in his stomach. "I don't know. Whenever I'm better. If I'm better."

"You will be. You're just tired."

A bitter laugh escapes his throat. "They're making me sleep on a bed there, they tell you that?"

She shakes her head, a pitiable smile crosses her lips. He hasn't slept in a bed since they got home. Too soft, he says. Just one of those thousand things "too" something to accept. Post-traumatic, they say, but he doesn't buy it. As far as he cares, these things just make him uncomfortable, and they should stay out of it.

She's leaving, flicking him a wave as she heads down the hall. It's now or…there is no or. If he doesn't say it now, she will be gone forever. And if she disappears, so will his world. She built it for him, and when your goddess leaves, she takes your universe with it.

"Kate."

She turns, eyebrows drawn closer. "Sawy - James? What is it?" He hates the way she stumbles over his name. He knows it shouldn't bother him the way it does, but the bruises that lace her pretty arms, still thin despite her current state, show how much he hates it. Too much like him. She knows, of course. He had planned to never tell, but the way the tears filled her eyes after the first strike, he had to explain. He was dead, and it was all his fault. That he couldn't forgive.

"I -- I don't want to go." Even as he says the words, a part of him knows it isn't true. He does want to go, not because he wants to be at that place, but because if he goes, he can come home. And coming home - he wants to try that again. This last homecoming hardly paid off. This time he'll have her and the little one…it'll all be better if he goes.

"I can't control that, James. It's your time. You need to get better, and I can't help you here."

He hears the words, the honesty behind them, but they're a screaming lie. "You do help me here. I'd…." He freezes, the words jumping back down his throat so quickly he begins to choke, coughing and coughing. I'd have died without you here.

She steps forward, look of alarm on her face, but he waves his hand, clearing his throat and relaxing. "What is it? What's making this so damn hard, James? Just leave, please. You need this."

"No I don't!" He's angry suddenly, and he can see the fear in her eyes that proves she hates him when he's like this. He hates himself when he's like this, but that does nothing but deepen the rage. She backs up to her original place, alarmed.

"Don't do this. You need to go now, before you take it too far. Juliet won't wait forever." Too far. Too. Too. Too.

"Fuck Juliet!" He's screaming now, and his fists are clenching. Why? What is he so angry about, anyway? He doesn't even know, and it's clear from the look on her face that she doesn't understand either.

"Don't talk to me like that, Sawyer!"

Now she's done it. He launches at her suddenly, blind. He doesn't see her. He sees Sawyer, the real Sawyer, and remembers the sick things he's done. He sees himself, the women he conned and destroyed. He sees Ben, how his need to keep everyone below him destroyed everything. He doesn't see her, frail and in no condition to take this sort of abuse.

He doesn't know why she does take it in the first place. She told him once, about her mother and the thing she did to her stepfather. Another time, after a black eye and a fractured wrist, she'd extracted him from his ball in the corner, where he lay weeping for what he'd done, and told him she finally understood why her mother couldn't condone what she'd done.

"If anyone did to you what I did to him," she said, her voice dangerous and low, "I would've killed them sure as look at them."

He punches her in the neck and three times in the arms before she's able to stop him. It's always the lightest of touches that break him out of it. None of those people, those horrible people he sees would ever touch him that way, with the steady hands of a lover.

He sags against her, and she holds him, stroking his hair. She no longer gets upset or offended when he strikes her, especially since they made the choice to send him away. She knows it'll all end soon. Regardless of how this visit affects him, it will be over. They made the vow.

"When you come home. One more snap, one more strike, we part ways. I will not do that to him." She meant the little one. He wouldn't do it to the little one either. He hates that she'll save the little one without a thought, though, and never gave herself a chance to run.

He draws back after a moment of weakness, focusing on her beautiful features, forcing himself to see what's there instead of the ghosts that lingered before him just moment ago. She starts shaking then, the instant she knows she doesn't have to be strong for him anymore.

It kills him to see her like this, but he loves the pain. Once, he smacked her just so he could hurt. He'd had a dream he was invincible, and run through a battlefield, trying to die, but he couldn't. The thought of never escaping the pain that is breathing still terrifies him. He shivers at the memory.

"You alright now?" she asks, her head pulled away, as if the simple gesture will somehow protect her. He doesn't know how to tell her she will never be safe. He can't tell her that, the one thing that might free his conscience, because if he does he'll lose her. And what good is a freed conscience if she steals his heart?

This is hardly the worst of it. The worst time was two months after they got home. He'd gone out for the first time that day. She'd been clothes shopping and he ran out of food, so he had to go. He'd wandered around aimlessly for seven hours, all the words on the storefronts blurred and incomprehensible. A couple of thugs stole his wallet and kneed him in the groin, and he hadn't even noticed he blacked out.

She found him in the alley and carried him home. He didn't know how, and never asked. The image of a little woman like her pulling a lug like him through the streets repulsed him. What people must have thought.

When he was coherent again, she was dragging him into their bedless room. He thought she was Ben, and he'd gone crazy. He twisted both her ankles (Jack, of all people, had come to help out while she was recovering, and it was he that made the suggestion of this trip) and cut her arms all up with a razorblade.

Bleeding, crying in pain, and terrified, she'd still held him. Forced him to ground, really, but she'd laid there holding him close until he calmed down. She rocked him to sleep, holding his wrists in her grip, as he whispered out fifty different ways to kill himself for what he'd done.

But she's still here. She hiccups a little, obviously having cried. He grabs her then, and she stiffens, but when she realizes it's a sudden act of love, she relaxes, melting into his arms. He kisses the top of head, opening his lips to spew forth promises he knows deep inside he probably can't keep. "It'll all be better, I promise. I swear to you, baby, it won't be like this anymore."

He feels her lips part against his worn cotton t-shirt, but a strangled sob escapes them. He grips her tighter, but gently, and she just nods her head, unable to speak. They stand there for what seems like forever, neither daring to say that he should have left an hour ago, and the facility will be closing in two.

The door opens, but he can't bare to release her, to let Juliet see what he's done. He knows she's already bruised; for such a strong girl, her skin discolors when there's a strong breeze. "James, let's go." The obstetrician tech-turned-psycharitrist is obviously steeling herself against what she sees before her. He knows it hurts her to see people together, what with the way Jack left her behind like that.

He pulls away, but keeps his darling close, so she's far enough away to look him in the eye but close enough so no one can see. "I'll be home as soon as I can."

"I'll wait for you. No matter what. Take as long as you need."

They kiss, briefly. It feels wrong to do so in front of Juliet, so they don't allow their romance to linger. He turns away, staring straight at Juliet with the kind of gaze that demands return; his own way of making sure her eyes don't linger on the bruises.

Nearly to the door, he turns around. Part of him says this may be the last time he ever sees her, and he always thought the last of something should be the first of something else. So he figures, come what may, some part of him is looking at her for the last time, so perhaps he should say something to her he's never said before. "Hey Kate?"

She's looking straight at him, tears falling down her face, so the attention-getter was pointless, but she asks "What?" as if she hadn't been.

"I love you, baby."

She doesn't seem stunned; apparently his silent devotion hadn't gone unnoticed. "I love you too." It comes out in only a whisper, but it's a forced whisper, a sentence you force to be quiet because you can't talk loud enough to say it as loud as you mean to.

He gets in the car with Juliet, but his mind is still inside the house. It'll stay there, the good part. He's going to keep it safe with her, while he battles away the nasty part of himself. So he can come home good. After all, he thinks, she loves me.

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A.N.: This is my favorite of all the stories I've written. I'm aware the tense may be a bit flawed in places, it was an exercise in writing in the present tense. Hope you enjoyed and review.