"If there was a better way to go then it would find me
I can't help it, the road just rolls out behind me
Be kind to me, or treat me mean
I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine"

- Fiona Apple, "Extraordinary Machine

The first few weeks constitute what he thinks should feel routine (it's been a long time or not long enough), a lot of smiling and nodding and "yes, boss," gritting his teeth against things he doesn't exactly agree with but ain't gonna bother to argue about, being stupidly domesticated, learning how to use the ovens in their small yellow house and figuring out that the grey starch of his jumpsuit needs to be washed in a different water temperature than that of her dark blue one.

At first, he feels kind of dumb doing all this pretending, and how did he and Juliet end up living together anyway, aside from the fact that Horace took it upon himself to assume they were the husband and wife of this ragtag collection of cursed pasts and screwed up presents, an assumption neither of them really bothered to correct him on. And was he supposed to ever acknowledge that, he wonders, because she certainly never did, just turned to him after the door closed with a raised eyebrow and a little smile, asking in that disconcertingly quiet voice if he could please turn on the light in the living room.

(They're both so messed up that a real relationship should be out of the question, but he'll spend the night swearing that her smile means otherwise.)

After awhile, it starts to feel less like pretending and more like real life except he can't shake the feeling that they're still just pawns in some fucking game, James LaFleur, head of security (con man) and Juliet Burke, motor pool guru (fertility doctor.)

"How long's it been since you lived with someone?" He asks the question on a night they're both fighting insomnia, she's wrapped in his too big sweatshirt with the bulldog on it and the house is mostly dark except for a few slivers of light from outside lamps. Go fish.

"Same as you," she replies evenly, and the unanswered question hangs in the air between them. She pulls a blanket higher over her bare legs. "Why?"

Goodwin and Kate, it's all water under the bridge and they never talk about their pasts, not really. James shakes his head, slaps another ace down on the table and takes a sip of beer.

(Thing is, they're both so damn good at playing games that he also can't tell when either of them are gonna inadvertently make the one wrong move that fucks it all up.)

"Just wonderin'."

He brings her lunch on the days she works late. She cooks him dinner on the days where he's doing the overnights. They're not unhappy, they're not uncomfortable, they just are and it's a strange feeling because he's just used to feeling one or the other. Overall bliss or uneasy anxiety, pure contentment or miserable anger, that's what Sawyer or Jim LaFleur or whoever the fuck he is knows, not this in between of emotion where some days are really good and other days are just okay. And, well, he can fix things a lot of things around here pretty easily but he ain't really sure how to go about fixing the one thing he cares about the most.

In late August, the rains come down hard and he borrows a van that he takes out to the North Valley. It gets stuck in a pothole just outside of the pylons and he ends up calling her down from the motor pool, staring at the tendrils of wet hair plastered against the back of her soaked-through (nearly black) jumpsuit as they both push against the back of the van. The wheels spin against the ground, splattering droplets of rain-soaked mud in their wake.

He starts to feel like this is some sort of sick metaphor for his whole fucking life, and can't stop himself from thinking otherwise.

It's not like they talk about things the way their younger (future) selves would in the real world (real world, he's not even sure what that means anymore) but the first time they sleep together isn't by accident, her in the kitchen instigating the act by pushing him up against the counter and him retaliating by sticking a hand underneath her shirt. It's foreplay for awhile, both of them exploring what they can reach of each other, like this is some test to see if they really do fit together. Eventually, she leads him to the bedroom and once the clothes come off he doesn't bother to think anymore, just pushes her down on the bed with sweaty hands while she presses her face into his shoulder, tongue grazing the skin over his chest as his name rolls off her tongue, echoing in the quiet of the small bedroom.

They don't exactly take that long, all things considered, and once they're done she rolls onto her side, her lips pulling at the skin above his lip. And then she's just naked next to him, pressed up against his body muttering goodnight with her breathing evening out as she falls asleep and what the hell is he supposed to do? Go for another round? Tell her she was fucking fantastic? (Because, he realizes, she really was.) Is this the part where they have pillow talk about their pasts and futures? Because (he remembers, with only a hint of lingering frustration), the last time he did that, things didn't go over quite so well.

He wishes she would say something, that she would take the fucking reigns like she did back at Hydra Island when she called the shots and tasered his ass to the ground but she seems to be liking this 180 tailspin into complete leniency, letting him do whatever the hell he wants, be it drink beer in the afternoon or leave his work boots in the hallway or fuck her in the kitchen in the middle of dinner.

Like she's damn comfortable or somethin'.

And hell, he's damn comfortable, too. So he closes his eyes and curls against her, his lips ghosting over the skin of her back, and when he finally falls asleep he tries to forget about things that should matter (things that in any other relationship what other relationship? used to matter) because it probably ain't important in this world.

The record player is stuck, the same note of Fleetwood Mac's "Lay It All Down" playing over and over (and over) but he's not really minding all too much until he realizes that she's not bothered and that's just strange because normally she'd be the first one make a fuss. He puts down his book, wanders into the kitchen and finds her standing at the counter, her fingers counting strands of spaghetti into careful piles next to a large boiling pot. He can't figure that there's no way in hell she didn't hear him get up, but she doesn't turn around and for awhile he just stands in the arch that separates the living room from the kitchen, leaning against the wood, watching the movement of her back and the way she rolls her head from side to side every so often.

"Erm." He clears his throat, feeling incredibly (and foolishly) awkward. "The damn record player's jammed again." She finally twists in his direction, the now empty carton of spaghetti in her right hand, and looks at him like she doesn't quite know what to do with that information.

"I know." She motions to the refrigerator. "Can you please get the wine out?"

Slightly dumfounded by the whole damn situation, he moves further into the kitchen because why not, and even though this thing makes no sense he's willing to go along with it as best he can. Because he may not be DHARMA material, he may not even be relationship material, but he ain't stupid. There is something here, and damned if he's gonna screw it up by being an idiot (and shit, did she do this with all the guys she dated? He realizes he's not sure, she never really told him anything about her past life except for the fact that she was a doctor, married to some asshole jerk who ended up getting hit by a bus.)

"You got an occasion or somethin'?" He finally asks, uncorking the wine and taking a sip straight from the bottle. She quirks an eyebrow, an unreadable look passing across her face.

"I just thought it would be nice to have dinner together. By the way, try not to spill wine all over yourself when you drink like that? I already did one load of wash this week."

(He figures he's gotta ask her about that sometime, where the hell she learned to do that thing where her voice goes all soft and quiet and gets him to both calm down and do things he normally would snap at people for. Probably Others bootcamp.)

Spaghetti ain't exactly a culinary art when it comes down to it, James realizes, just some long strands of pasta with sauce thrown on top and he figures maybe he could try to do something like this next time instead of defaulting as he usually did to grilled cheese sandwiches and canned soup. Maybe for something special, maybe just to make her smile, hell, maybe there didn't have to be a reason at all.

And then his head snaps up as if something in his brain has just clicked into place, and he wonders how long she's been looking at him like that, staring across the table with a smear of red across her upper lip and the fingers of one hand wrapped around the long stem of the wine glass. The silence that follows feels longer than he knows it is as they read each other's faces and she finally smiles, reaching for his hand.

"Happy six months, James."

He's pretty sure he was either high or drugged or possibly both when he agreed to go on this double date, because how does one even double date in a commune surrounded by a jungle with a smoke monster and Hostile people who shoot flaming arrows? (With a picnic in the valley, he learns, and finds himself filing the information away for a rainy day just in case.) Afterwards, they drop Horace and Amy off at the motor pool and walk the rest of the way home, her shoulder brushing against his with every advancing step. He tries not to show that he notices, or for that matter, cares

"He's going to marry her, you know." She says the words almost absently and he fights to keep his gaze neutral, like it's no big deal they're having a random discussion about people getting married when they can't even admit to themselves they're in a relationship of their own.

"Sure. And how the hell do you know that?"

Juliet shrugs. "I can see it. I mean, sometimes…" She stops in front of the porch, their eyes meeting and there's something reflecting in the blue that looks bright and unfazed and just so fucking happy that it almost unnerves him. "Sometimes you can just tell."

His stomach drops somewhere down by his feet and suddenly his heart is beating way too fast and what the hell? Because this feeling, these feelings, they weren't Sawyer, they couldn't be James LaFleur, and he can't even remember if they would have ever been James Ford.

"You can?"

"Yes." She's closer now, one hand reaching over his leg and he swallows, rubs a hand over his mouth. He starts thinking of how she looked that night on the dock, arms wrapped around her legs, fingers clasped too tightly over her jeans and hair that smelled of running and time travel, the way she looked at him with that almost-laugh-of-a-smile after he more or less conned her to stay.

(The promise, that was a con. The intentions, those were real. It's something he doesn't let himself forget.)

"Hey, Blondie?"

She's almost at the top of the steps now, one hand on the doorknob and he follows slowly, looping an arm around her shoulders. "Remember when I asked for two weeks?"

She looks up (there's that almost-laugh-of-a-smile again), the beats of her breath soft and steady against his neck, like a pulse he forgot he even had. He takes a breath.

Alright, two weeks.

"Whaddya say to a little more?"