Author's Note: SPOILER Season 3! I wrote this Kate-centric "rescue-verse" story based on my theories as to what was going on in the "flash forward" in the Season 3 finale. This was originally written for a prompt on LiveJournal, but as it was never posted in the community it was written for, I felt like I might as well put it on Rated for dark subject matter.

Disclaimer: All characters and original plotlines from Lost belong to ABC, J.J. Abrams, etc. This story is written for fun, not profit.

Not Really At All

Kate and Jack are together.

He guides her through the airport terminal amidst the screaming throng of photographers and reporters. She calls over one of the medical consultants to look at his shoulder, which she is sure is out of place, and holds his other hand throughout the procedure. When Jack cannot sleep, turning in the hotel sheets until they are soaked in his sweat, and walking around the room in halting steps, she walks with him. Kate is in his room every night of the debriefing, and every night after he meets with his family. Two months later, she helps him pick out a condo in San Dimas, where she lives with him. Jack buys Kate her first real car, a green Honda with satellite radio, with the money he gets from the lawsuit against Oceanic Airlines. He opens her first bank account under her real name for her, and gives her a lingering hug after she makes her first deposit.

They have lived together for eight months in California. Jack has been volunteering for an Hispanic clinic for three; Kate has been a shopgirl at a local department store for one week.

Kate and Jack are not in love.

They were two that pulled out of the spotlight, her and Sawyer. James. He had been forced to revert to his old identity upon reaching safety. The airline officials could not be bothered with any of that "Sawyer" nonsense when they held copies of the flight manifest in their pale hands. "James" was the name that stopped his hands from fidgeting while he was given a list of instructions from one of the airline crewmembers, and turned his torn green tee-shirt from an outlaw's uniform into the shroud of a previously normal person.

The name "James" made the man "Sawyer" a victim of circumstance. The name "Sawyer" made the man "James" a treacherous bastard. Everyone learned they were victims, by and by; Sawyer happened to learn on the first day on the mainland.

They sat in plastic office chairs side by side, and she did not even know where Jack was. They could hear the pounding and yelling of journalists on the other side of the door, but inside the bare little airline office, everything is uncomfortably muffled.

The castaways had been split up into groups of five and taken to offices lining the back of the terminal. Two women and a man filled the other seats, but Kate felt she might as well have been alone with him. The three others alternately cried, or chatted quietly. One woman irately spoke to an official about their ban on cell phone use, but she was told more than once that they could not call their loved ones. The airline wanted all contact to be made according to procedure.

"Procedure my ass," he said in his typical grumble, and Kate felt her mouth turn up at the corners. "Their procedure is what nearly killed us."

There were these parts of his personality that remained the same. Sawyer, however, was a con artist. Sawyer had killed people. James could no longer afford to be cavalier.

I suppose I'm not Sawyer anymore. Or ever again, he had said to her on the helicopter ride to the mainland airport. She did not think she could have ever gotten in the air again if he had not grabbed her hand until it hurt and yanked her on board, saying Come on, Freckles in his ornery way. She had not smiled then. She had been too busy looking for Jack.

Another muffled voice penetrated into her white gloom. It was one of the officials calling her name, a nondescript man in a white collared shirt. She did not stand up. She took Sawyer's hand in her own.

"Where does this leave us?" he asked, and she saw that he did not look at her.

"Here," she said. Even she did not know what that meant.

He finally said, "They're calling you." Then, "I think Jack's in that next room. Dumbass got himself injured."

"I saw."

"You would."

"Yes," she said at last, and stood up. So strange to be standing on a real floor. "You know, I don't think they'll bring me back here. After."

He looked up at her hard through his long blond hair. "You could get back if you wanted to."

"I don't think so."

He reached out and touched the frayed leg of her jeans. "Good luck out there."

"You, too, Sawyer," she replied. But he would not need it.

As she let the official lead her out of the room and into the throng, she felt years flash behind her eyes. He would leave this town a wealthy man for the first time in his life, and spend nearly all the money to pay back for the crimes of his past. Then he would start again. He would buy stock in the airline that had nearly killed him, and eventually become a board member. He would move back to Los Angeles where he worked three days a week and fixed cars on two more. He would buy an apartment in the city so that he could have some of the excitement he had once known, but never again could he have the strange and dangerous freedom. Things would not quite be right, but they would be good enough.

And Kate did not see herself in any of it.

She should have seen her own future the first time she mentally compared Jack to the cop who had finally caught up with her.

She does not think that Jack was the one who finally turned her in.

Well, she is not even sure it was someone turning her in that finally brought the police to find her at work. It is possible that someone in the Federal Bureau of Investigations finally wised up to her record.

She had a good year before she did anything wrong, anyway.

She got fired from her job at the department store after the first week. She hated the other women she worked with, and told them so. Then she went to the next mall and got the same job, under a different name. One of her old names.

She supposed that, since no one had caught onto her after the giant rescue fiasco, she was in the clear. She had enough to handle with Jack disappearing for hours at a time from the home they shared. Because that was how they lived: they shared a place. They shared food and funds. They occasionally had sex in the bedroom that refused to accept the central air conditioning. But Jack and Kate were barely even together anymore. It took him two days after her arrest to finally inquire where she was.

California refused her bail and sent her to prison to await trial. Kate, Maggie, whoever, had murdered people, and thanks to the intrepid background check of the department store, the FBI was determined to prove she had also killed their transportation deputy on the island.

She wanted to be positive, but found the effort futile. She would have said that her life was ruined. She could not think of what she could have had to be grateful for in the first place.

It would have to be Dr. Jack Shepard called out to Sunday duty at the Central California Women's Facility.

And Kate would have to have her first breakdown on the Sunday before her preliminary hearing.

It was the media, she decided much later, that had finally gotten to her. A frenzied wave of interest flooded her life the day she was arrested from the store where she worked.

Ultimate survivor ultimately defeated. Famed crash survivor behind bars for murder.

News reporters, bloggers, and Hollywood lawyers were clamoring for her quotes by the end of her first day in jail. It was not the sight of cameramen parked outside the little jailhouse, nor the energetic phone calls, that finally unsettled her.

It was attention.

All her life she had not had to hide her true identity because other people did it for her. Her family left her to fend for herself.

Everyone had believed her every lie. Not because she was a great con artist, or because they wanted to be taken in by the beautiful thief. They simply had not cared for the truth or for her

Not really at all.

The weird phrase had begun to repeat itself in response to every question she was asked, or that she asked of herself. Do you think they'll grant you the reprieve your lawyer has requested? Do you think your fame is what has gotten you so much sympathy? Do you think a murderer like yourself deserves any special attention whatsoever?

Do you think any of this matters? Do you think anything you have done matters?

"I'm cracking up," she had said in one of the media interviews she was allowed to make. She threw in a crazy, bubbling laugh to add to the drama, but the reporter did not laugh along with her. "But I'll tell you who's going crazy." She had also begun to slur her words without warning. "I'm sure. It's those ladies I work with who saw me get taken away in cuffs. At the department store, you know. I mean, the perfume counter has never had and never will have the amount of excitement I gave them on one day."

Real insanity, Kate found, happened in sadness. She stopped sleeping, ate enough to gain weight though she kept dropping pounds, and occasionally passed hours without knowing where she was. You could cry and scream and pull your hair and slur your words and stab an inmate with a sharpened toothbrush and you wouldn't be as crazy as you were in the sadness under the artificial lights, and wondering where and who you were.

Some time had probably passed while she sat on the green covered cot in the medical ward of the facility when she heard the door scrape open. Her lawyer had arranged with the correction officers to have Kate sedated for sleep the night before her hearing, and showered and well-dressed the next day. She did not even look up until she heard the voice of the doctor ask her to push up the sleeve of her uniform.

She squinted up into Jack's inscrutable blue gaze. He did not seem to regard her bloodshot eyes or sallow skin. He ignored her.

"You look thinner," she said hoarsely. Even on the island Jack had had an impressive set of sculpted muscles. Now he was lean, tan, with longer hair. He looked "academic." Kate would not have known him if she had not first heard his voice. No matter the medical practice, clothes, or new haircut, he could never get rid of the gentleness in his voice.

"Kate," he said steadily, "please move the sleeve up your arm so I can give you a sedative."

She raised a timorous hand to shove the orange polyester up her arm. "I bet your girlfriend cuts your hair like that," she said without opening her mouth much. "You sit down in the kitchen… in San Dimas… and she takes out the razor and does it for you in ten minutes."

He pulled a syringe from a packet on the counter and let two drops of fluid come down the needle before he brought it near her arm.

"What, I don't get an alcohol rub?"

Without a moment's pause he set the needle back on the packet and moved to pull out an alcohol wipe from a cupboard. She liked the tingling cold of the alcohol on her skin, the sharp smell. Still fainter than they should be. The rub, however, lends her a moment of clarity.

"But your hair's a little longer, too, so that probably means you haven't had a girlfriend in a while," she said as he went for the needle again. "So this must be a new life calling. You're done with women because they might turn out like me, and you've become… a surgical monk."

He did not raise his head, or smile with sad eyes. Keep the pressure on the plunger steady. The pressure under her skin rose, anyway.

"Not exactly the crusader you used to be, huh?"

He finished the job, tossed the hypodermic in the trash, ripped off his gloves.

Here is where he used to respond. Here is where he used to shout, to deny, to argue, and to feel like weeping. Here is where he used to be touched.

This is how he is now. He waits until he locks his gaze with his audience. He waits until he is almost at the door. Until they almost forget they ever knew him as Jack.

"I guess you could say I'm not what I thought I was, Kate. But that's all that ever matters. What you think you once were."

Kate feels the sedative hit her system faster than a concussion. That must explain why none of this can be as it seems. Her breath comes a little faster, and suddenly she is lying face up on the little cot, and Jack is standing over her. This time, though different from before, is the last time Kate and Jack will ever be together, as they once were.

She tries to furrow her brow, tries to cry, but everything is caught up in her sluggish nerves. "None of that makes sense," she says, but even to her own ears she sounds far off. "So what? That means I… don't have a future? Just what I've done?"

Jack isn't standing over her anymore, but she cannot move her head to find him. She thinks maybe he has given her a tranquilizer. She will wake up lying in a bed. She will slowly raise herself to look out the window and see the island. Jack saves people from themselves, not from their nerves.

The tears come, coursing down her cheeks, pooling in her ears and the little hollow of her neck. Jack is gone. Dr. Shepard is about to take his final bow.

She does not want to feel the last touch he gives her: a bandage over the needle prick. "I always wondered what you thought you had done."

Had he loved her? She used to think she loved all her men. She believed she loved what she could get from them. And a few she thought she loved because they were absolutely wonderful. Jack was one of those. But she had never done anything out of love. What had she ever done to honestly love another person?

Not really at all.

Kate had one visitor. When the guards escorted her through the Facility, they took her down a hallway covered in peeling, lime-green paint, with broken floor tiles and a series of unused doors. A child's tricycle sat just inside the door to the outside, but when she passed it, she saw the seat was brown with age and both back tires were flat.

She was led out to a fenced area, as expected, but she stopped in disbelief as her uncaring gaze locked on the open gate, the cars parked just outside. She opened her mouth slightly in silent astonishment as her cuffs and ankle restraints were removed.

Ben was sitting at a plastic white picnic table.

"Long time no see," he said from across the yard.

Kate turned around to ask the guard what was going on, how was this man here, how was he still alive, but there was nothing but dying grass behind her. "How is…" she began.

"Why don't you have a seat? The two of us have a lot talk about, and I didn't want to keep that lady waiting.

She found she had already moved toward him, and mechanically followed with a plop onto the hard plastic bench. She put her hands on top by instinct, then immediately lowered them to her lap. She did not want Ben to see how they shook.

Ben put his hands on top of the table anyway and smiled at her. She realized she had never seen him blink his eyes. He did not do so now. He smiled as if this were pleasant; they were asking after each other's mothers, planning a picnic for later in the afternoon.

"I'm going to tell you a story," he said slowly and lightly, as though to a child. "And then I'm going to tell you what you're going to do. And you're not going to say anything until I'm done, and then we're going to leave this yard and get in my car."

She willed her heart to stop, but it would not. This is how the rest of everything happened.

"I could bet a million dollars you weren't expecting me to ever make it off the island alive, and even if I did I would only make it to jail. I did, in fact, allow myself to be 'rescued' on the last helicopter out of there, and I was taken to jail. So you would be half right. But it wasn't me they rescued."

He lifted his left hand off the table. Where his palm had been lay the tattered identity of the man "Henry." Only this time, Ben's photo lay under the dirty plastic, not the black man who had previously owned that card.

"It didn't matter how many of you fingered me, which I was told about 25 of you were able to do. In all the confusion, they could only prove that I was Henry. Because Ben doesn't exist either. I was an unrecorded birth, so I can be whomever I want to be, whenever I want to be. And I recently decided I don't want to be Ben anymore."

Now he folded his hands in front of him. He had stopped smiling. "I thought what you did to destroy all my work on the island destroyed me, too. But it didn't. I found myself walking out of that jail cell a free man. An everyman. An everyman much smarter than every man, but nevertheless a tabula rasa. And that freedom got my mind working again. I realized that what you all have done could be the greatest blessing I could ever give the world. I want you to give me your hand, Kate."

She reached out and allowed him to take her left hand in his own. She could not understand why he wanted it. His grip was clean and cold.

"I found workspace in San Dimas, and that's how I found you. Or your address, at least. You've been here a while, and it looks like you missed the chance on a pardon and an appeal. I don't believe you did what they say you did, Kate. But I know you've done bad things. That's why I know you will help me."

His grip tightened the slightest bit on her hand. "You're a bad person, Kate. You could have been the con with the heart of gold, but you weren't, were you? No. You hurt everyone whoever loved you because, deep down, you're incapable of sacrificing love over to another person." He smiled again. "I know you're thinking I have no right to talk about love in such a poetic fashion. Whom have I ever loved? I could honestly say that I don't even know the answer to that, myself. I think I love the world. And sometimes love is painful. Sometimes, not everyone deserves our love. There is a way to make it right, though."

Then he pulled it out of his pocket with his right hand, not letting go of his left.

My God, no.

"Stranger things are happening in this world than ever happened on the island. I can't believe I hadn't come here for so long that I was missing everything. So, thank you, Kate, and for all your friends who helped me get here. And I suppose this is a token of my gratitude."

He held it up to her, let her look at it, watched her eyes go big then small again, and then began to give it to her.

"Let's go now."

She pointed, wordlessly, to the sign on the fence that read, "This area under video surveillance."

He smiled once more. "Do you really think any of that matters? There's no need for a response. We're going to head back to San Dimas. There's nothing there of your old life for you to worry about, anyway. Do you know why? Because you didn't have one. Think back and you'll see you've left nothing and no one behind you. Nothing here either, though that goes without saying. And actually, I'm giving you a last chance at ever doing the right thing. You're going to help me in my work, and there's a lot of changes from what I had been doing on the island. You're going to help me every step of the way, and this is just the first. But in doing so, you'll have the chance to either help me succeed, or kill me."

This could not be happening, none of this made any sense, how could life and everyone just continue while all this was happening?

Yet, she could not think of a reason why not.

Not really at all.

"You're not going to kill me. But I know how it amuses you to try. Murder always got you where it hurt."

He let go her hand and finally stood up from the table. He did not need to pull her; she began to follow him out to his car, leaving the Central California Women's Facility behind.

She twisted her new wedding band, feeling its weight.

Ben is everything men have ever done to Kate. She does not know how long she has been with him, but it is long enough that when she sees Jack Shepard again she finds herself forgetting how to talk, acting almost normal.

"We have to go back," he tells her. He is the one who is hoarse now. He is the one who is bloodshot, crumpled, maybe even running from the law. Now she is closed off and oddly confident. She has been somewhere he will never know about unless she tells him. He may think he knows she has been married to Ben for God knew how long, and perhaps that she even worked on his election campaign, but he could never know unless she told him. Everything. The power is enough to make her feel good, for a moment, before reverting to the task at hand. In all that time, Ben has taught her to do, not feel.

You can never go back. You've done only what you know is true. Kate knows she has engineered this breakdown in Jack. As Ben wanted it done. Kate knows she ended Sawyer's life, and she even predicted that no one would show up. She knows that, at least now her past is resolved. And for once, her future might turn out the way she plans.

"He is waiting up for me," she knows and tells Jack.

She also thinks about killing Ben sometimes. But she does not know for sure. She only knows that, at some point not long from now, she will tell Jack everything that has happened, and she will know exactly what she has done. She will have time later to decide how she feels about that.

Just now, she knows she feels no guilt or remorse or evil or emptiness. She knows eventually she will have to feel those things. Ben asks her every day How is your judgment day going?

Kate always tells him she feels nothing but busy.