AN: Fair warning, peeps: this one comes as close as I do to writing pRon, which, sadly, isn't very close (even my sex is implied). But I've changed the rating to "M" for a few "suggestive" words here and there. And I am planning to continue this (thank you all for the feedback!). I will deal with the freighter & Naomi's crew eventually, as I hint at the end of this installment.

Regarding Jack's grandfather's watch in this chapter: the object is a reference to the first "mobisode"/"LOST: Missing Pieces"/web episode/whatever you want to call it, which you can see on YouTube if you've missed it. In the episode, Christian Shepard presents Jack with a watch which had been given to him by Jack's grandfather. Christian gives it to Jack as a wedding present/peace offering, telling him that he approves of Jack's choice in marrying Sarah. I haven't watched the show for a while, but I'm assuming that Jack has this watch with him on the island. If not, pretend he does. I thought it was a very interesting device, connecting Jack's choices, good and bad, to his understanding of time, which is why I decided to use it here.

DDD

Paulina

DDD

It's still dark when he wakes up, face buried in a sea of yellow waves. His half-closed eyes follow them down the smooth of Juliet's back in pure, lazy pleasure until they catch on the snowflake at the bottom, still pink and almost phosphorescent in the dark.

The sight burns him slightly, brings him back to himself.

Her arms are half around his neck, her expression against his shoulder naturally placid, unlike the premeditated calm of her waking hours, when she forces herself to become the eye of the island's storm. She looks different now in the context of his arms: for the first time, she seems to belong to his reality, to the world outside the island. When he closes his eyes and concentrates on the feeling of her body next to his, he can almost imagine that they're asleep in his bed in L.A.

But then the fantasy dissolves: in that world, he has no idea how he would find Juliet, how they would meet. She mentioned something about Florida—and he can visualize the space abstractly, the maps he learned in school and saw on television during elections, billboards full of sunshine and oranges, but he's never been to Florida, and he has no way to be certain of the things she's told him. Whether she grew up in Miami or on the island, her past is equally distant to him. No matter how he thinks about her, he has to take Juliet on faith.

And he's willing to do it—his stomach twists with the realization, the reflex of doubt and past disappointments tangling with his need to believe, which, though ailing, still proves stronger and more resilient than everything else. He needs to believe her on an almost visceral level: he's been strung out on doubt for months. Since they left the Others, Juliet has kept things from him, refused to speak, but she hasn't lied to him yet, and on this island, in his book, that almost qualifies her for sainthood.

He strokes her hair and tries not to make her into a saint, like he did with Sarah, and like Sarah did with him. He knows now that it isn't healthy, though sometimes even that can't stop him. He runs his fingers down each of Juliet's beautifully formed vertebrae and presses his lips against her neck, trying not to be reverent. She is real, he reminds himself, taking in her flushed and warm skin, her pink lips, the swell of her hips. He holds her close, hard but ignoring it, thinking that he's won. She's real: she's a woman, not a saint. Then she tightens her arms around him, pressing her cheek against his chest, and she feels so familiar somehow, so close, that it makes her strange and otherworldly all over again.

He looks to the corner of his tent as he continues to stroke her shoulders distractedly: he can see her clothes piled against his in the sand, his father's silver watch half-resting on her sleeve. It stopped hours ago, while he was unbuttoning her blouse—she'd stopped his unbuttoning because oddly, she'd seen the stillness of the hands, and he'd taken the watch off, thrown it in the sand. He had only just begun a bitter smile, a derisive joke about his father that she wouldn't understand pulling at the corner of his mouth, when she put her hand against his ribcage and nuzzled his neck, her lips pressing gently behind his ear. His pulse had leapt and he'd felt the heavy words fall away from him. He'd found himself forgetting, and all he could concentrate on then was pulling her close and trying to breathe.

Her skin was bare and soft against his body, distracting, and when he touched her, he felt as though he were moving backward and forward at once, taking off layers only to find her more opaque. Yet her eyes were lovely, loving, melting ice, and so he went on, not knowing whether he was coming closer or moving farther away.

It didn't change when she was moving on top of him, the slight pain under his scar every time Juliet slipped down and he couldn't help pushing up to meet her, the way she'd asked him if it hurt, if they should stop and he'd whispered "no" back before trying to distract her from the question with his fingers and his mouth. But as much as his eyes had been pulled toward her body, and all of the soft, warm, places he was touching, he couldn't help returning to her face again and again.

It was as though it had cracked, he thought at first, watching the muscles work as though he had never seen them before. She didn't look at him the whole time, but alternated, as she usually did, between him and the sky. When her eyes fell on him, they were so bright and swimming that he had twice felt compelled to ask her if she was all right. She only nodded at him, and then they were both quiet, moving, and the lines in her face moved with them, and he thought he could see pleasure in her expression, but he didn't know whether it was hers or his.

The helpless feeling rose up around him slowly, then overtook him like a flood of heat, and all he could do was move his hands over her once more, desperate to see her contented. He found himself whispering her name again and again, the three syllables becoming strange with the repetition so that after a few times around, he didn't know what they meant anymore, and just said, "please."

Her eyes closed then sharply, and he could see her mouth forming a beautiful, incomprehensible sound before her body contracted around him. He squeezed his eyes shut on the blurry picture, arching underneath her, moving his hands up to her hips, too overwhelmed to look, to know the answer to his question.

By the time he had opened his eyes again, she had allowed him to pull her down to him, but carefully, so as not to lean on his scar. Her breath was hot against his neck, and he became conscious of his own chest heaving. After a few minutes she rose to clean them both, helped him despite his protests, pointing to his injury and telling him he'd done enough that night to exacerbate it. When she leaned over him again he'd kissed her, then wrapped an arm around her and refused to let her go. She laughed softly in his ear, telling him reasonably and calmly that they had to get dressed, but he only held on tighter, not wanting her to leave.

He'd been surprised when she let him win the argument for once, pressing her cheek against his neck and closing her eyes. He felt time becoming blurry, the tent disappearing from around him into the dark, her soft skin fading away under his hands.

He'd dreamt strange dreams that he could only half-remember, of a world that didn't seem real anymore, of hospital halls and Sarah and his father, of his grandfather's watch full of sand.

DDD

"Hmm. Jack?" Juliet stirs in his arms and looks up at him. Before they focus, her eyes are strangely transparent, like those odd days when the water is so clear that he can see to the bottom of the ocean. They remind him of the way she looked at him outside the Tempest. Now, as then, he can see softness and hardness at once, the absolute unevenness of the deepest part of her. Now, as then, he is moved, drawn to her suddenly, so quick that it makes him a little queasy. The urge to fold her in his arms again and reciprocate with a confession of his own is strong, but he falters, paralyzed by years of doubt. Even if he did manage to loosen his tongue, he's not sure what he would say: every time he thinks he knows what he feels for Juliet, it changes, gets away from him.

"Hey," he softens his voice, looking down at her, smiling and monosyllabic. It's all he thinks he can manage for now.

"Are you ok?" her voice is almost comically sleepy, warm, as though she's asking him for five more minutes. Her lips tickle against his chest, and the sensation and sound combined endear her to him dangerously, tug at him in surprising places. He can't stop the corners of his mouth from turning up; he can't help from moving his hands gently over her body, trying to show her what he doesn't yet know how to say.

As she wakes up fully, she touches his belly, far enough away from his scar to make the twinge of pain remote: the pleasure is closer.

"Yeah, I'm good," he flushes despite himself, sliding a hand over hers and moving to kiss her. It doesn't matter to him now where she came from or whether he can ever know what happened during all the missing years: when they get onto the freighter, he knows where they're going, and he knows that they're going together.

DDD