Chapter One

"Now when the evil scientist Yakub created the white race, as I told you before—"

"Shut up, little crackpot short and stout." Sawyer wasn't afraid to insult his cellmate. The man was, indeed, lacking in both height and stature, but even if he had been a mammoth, Sawyer would have had no reason to cower. He had marked a protective circle around himself on his third day in prison, when he had performed that little move he had seen Sayid execute on one of the Others; Sawyer had likewise snapped a fellow inmate's neck.

He hadn't felt the same sense of satisfaction he had seen in Sayid's eyes. There was no aura of war to lend nobility to his actions. Even if the prison was a war zone all its own, there was no community to protect but the community of one. There was no one who would tell him, "Well done," the way Sayid had told Hurley while clapping him on his great, broad shoulder. There was no one who would ask him, "Where did you learn that?" with a hint of awe, the way Bernard had asked Sayid while rising from his knees. There was only the second life sentence that would be added to the first and the reputation he had earned that would keep the other prisoners at bay.

The guard slid his keys forward and inserted them in the lock, the jangling sound somehow audible in the voice-filled quarter. "Ford, you have a visitor."

It would be her again. There was that slight flutter of feeling, somewhere in the far most corner of his heart, that little bit of life. But mostly there was embarrassment. He wished she would not come. He wished she would stop visiting, shut the door finally on that other past, the place where he had once believed he could step forward, but where he had predictably stepped back. In those early days on the island, Sayid had said that hope was a terrible thing to lose; but he had been wrong. Hope was a terrible thing to grasp, a terrible thing to cling to, the one thing that kept the black shame alive, that kept the heart beating in its stone cage. If she'd just stop coming, he could stop believing there was something human in him, and then he would be free.

He picked up the phone on the other side of the glass. He didn't look into her eyes; instead, he looked at his bit-off fingernails at the tips of his dirt-caked hands. It was amazing how filthy he could get in this place, while hardly doing anything at all. "Why do you keep coming?" he asked. "Why you?"

"No one else will visit you," she said, softly, matter-of-factly. "No one else is in Australia. If you had killed a man in the U.S., well, then, perhaps…"

"Claire, you have to stop coming." She had to stop subjecting him to her pity. Her visits nursed just enough of human emotion within him to keep the pain sharp. It was torture, her compassion.

When she only sat silently and continued to look at him with sadness, he sighed. "How's Aaron?" he asked.

She smiled. This he saw and this he hated. It reminded him of the quieter times on the beach, in the beginning, when he would offer her a piece of fish or some freshly plucked fruit, when his hands were clean, and tanned by the bright sun, and cooled in the fresh, open air, when they were extending something other than deceit. Her smiled faltered. It should have been a relief to him, but he felt his heart catch, and the foreign worry for another human being lit off sensors in the back of his brain.

"He's still not walking," she muttered. "He's almost two! He seems happy, but…I'm getting him evaluated again."

The child had developed normally on the island; had hit every milestone ahead of schedule. But once they were in Australia, his progress had slowed dramatically. All this Claire had told Sawyer. He wondered if she had anyone else to tell.

"Do you ever hear from anyone?" he asked, unable to resist conversation, unable to shut himself off in his protective shell. He knew he would suffer for it later, but now, now she was here, and she was beautiful, something to look at besides the gray bricks of the cell he had counted for six hundred and fifty-two nights in a row.

"Sayid hardly ever calls anymore," she said, "since he got married. They keep moving, you know."

"Yeah, you told me."

"I saw Jack once, on a layover. We met at the airport for drinks. It was eleven in the morning, and it didn't look like his first."

Sawyer's teeth, still unusually white, bit at his bottom lip. "So the doc's not still a hero, huh? Spends his days flying the world? Maybe if he's lucky he'll crash, save another heap of wreckage that ain't worth saving."


"Look, Claire, I gotta go. I got things to do, people to see. I'm late for my knitting circle." He slammed the phone on its receiver and pushed back hard from the table. The chair let out a loud scraping sound across the cement floor. He rose, but he couldn't help looking her in the eyes before she turned. Damn it if she wasn't starting to cry. Why did she have to go and do that now? With clenched jaw he turned aside from the tears welling in the deep blue pools of her eyes, but not before he saw her mouth, "I'm coming back. You can't stop me. "