Title: Degrees of Separation
Rating: PG-ish, I guess.
Summary: They'd warned them about this. The questions. Have you seen, did you know, maybe you met... They'd coached them on how to respond. They'd outlined, specifically, what would happen if they didn't follow script. But this...this is different. It has to be.
Spoilers: Through The Beginning of the End. Nothing that hasn't aired yet; I'm unspoiled.

-----

Kate first sees her on the last day of the trial, sitting inconspicuously at the back of the courtroom. Their eyes meet briefly and Kate can't remember her name.

She stands when she's told and she feels the eyes fixed on her back and suddenly she remembers.

Has the jury reached a verdict?

They have.

Afterwards, she's ushered out of the courthouse and they're met by a swarm of hungry reporters; she keeps her eyes averted and lets her triumphant lawyer do the talking. She sees the woman lingering and steps towards her, but she's caught up in the crowd and then Jack is there, taking her in an awkward hug before practically pushing her in the open door of the waiting car. She's grateful for the silence when he gets in as well and closes the door again.

Three days ago, we all died. We should all be able to start over.

She believes him for the first time.

Her father reaches back from the front seat and squeezes her hand.

-----

The second time she sees her, only a few days later, Kate happens to look out the window of her father's apartment in time to see the woman walk past the building, looking up.

The name comes easily to her now, but by the time she runs downstairs and out the front door, the woman's gone.

Maybe she'd imagined her.

-----

Three months have passed. Jack is distant, sullen, drunk more often than not, and people have stopped asking him for autographs because he rarely goes out and they don't recognize him with the beard, anyway. Kate has stopped taking his calls. (She refuses to hear "we have to go back" one more time.) Her father is too overprotective but has stopped asking questions about the island so she's stopped not answering them.

She's working in a small diner (she gets the irony, but hey, it pays her share of the bills) and finds merely straightening her hair and wearing makeup for a change helps her keep a low profile. The latest big political news and celebrity gossip has long since overshadowed the news of the Oceanic Six, anyway, and she's glad for it.

She hasn't seen the woman in these past three months, but in all honesty she's stopped looking, even has forgotten, mostly, about the two strange non-encounters. So she thinks nothing of it when a woman with light brown, wavy hair is seated at one of her tables.

"What can I --" Kate stops abruptly when the woman looks up.

The other woman gives a hesitant smile. "Hey, Kate."

"It's been a while." Kate clears her throat, regains her composure. "Can I...get you something?"

"Coffee'll do."

Kate nods and turns slowly, takes the few steps it is to fill two mugs with coffee. Informing her manager, quietly, that she'll be taking her break, she returns to the corner booth, slipping in across from the other woman and setting the mugs on the table. She watches as her companion empties two creamers into the hot beverage. Kate takes hers black. "I saw you. At the trial."

A nod in confirmation. "I'd seen you on the news, of course...Had to see for myself, though. If it was really you."

"It's really me." Kate tips her head, an eyebrow arched just slightly. "It's been three months since then."

And another nod. "Chicken, I guess?" The woman gives a self-deprecating smile.

"Chicken. You?" Kate shakes her head, disbelieving. "I watched you go up against six federal marshals for me."

Long silence. Then, abruptly, "I knew someone on your plane."

They'd warned them about this. The questions. Have you seen, did you know, maybe you met... They'd coached them on how to respond. They'd outlined, specifically, what would happen if they didn't follow script. But this...this is different. It has to be. Carefully, "It was a big plane..."

"Kate." Cassidy looks down and draws something out of her purse, slides it across the table. Kate picks up the photo and draws in a breath.

I'm pregnant.

"Is this...this is your daughter?" Kate doesn't see her nod. The little girl has blond hair. The little girl has dimples. The little girl is smirking at the camera.

I fell in love with the wrong guy and then I gave him my life savings. He conned me and embarrassed me. He was a bad guy.

It can't be. No.

It's his. The baby is his.

No.

Kate shakes her head, finally. "She's beautiful...but I'm sorry, Cassidy...I don't know what you want me..."

"Clem's...her father. I loved him. You remember." Cassidy looks earnest now, almost pleading. All Kate can do is nod. "He was on your plane. Sawyer." The woman shakes her head, correcting herself. "James. James Ford."

No. (Why is she so surprised? Why has the dull ache in her chest just deepened?) No.

She can't breathe, but she steels herself. Hardening. Remembers their words. Their script. Their threats. She takes a breath, finally, but it seems too shallow. "I'm sorry; I don't think I ever met him." The words hurt. (Maybe it won't show. She hopes it won't show.)

"Are...are you sure?" There are tears in the other woman's eyes now and Kate looks away.

"I'm sure. I'm sorry." She reaches across the table and covers Cassidy's folded hands with one of her own. "I'm sorry."

-----

After her shift, Kate is parked on the street outside the diner, forehead resting on the steering wheel.

One.

Two.

She draws in a deep breath.

Three.

Four.

She dials Jack's number.

Five.

fin