Rating: PG-13ish, for a bit of language and implied themes.
Disclaimer: Don't own them; just borrowing.
Summary: Post-rescue, Sawyer receives an unexpected visitor.
Notes: Thank you, thank you, thank you to lenina20 for reading this throughout its creation, for the help with characterization of you-know-who, for being willing to bounce ideas back and forth, for just the all-around cheerleading and encouragement. I've already told you this fic would not have been written without you, and I appreciate it more than you know – and hey, it's been fun!
This is part three of my In the Woods Trilogy:
Part One: That Was Real
Part Two: Holding Pattern
Part Three: Elegy
categories: Fic That Made Me Cry the Hardest, Best Series (for In the Woods Trilogy)
<<-Prequel: Holding Pattern
He hears the car coming slowly down his dirt drive but doesn't make a move towards the house. Damned reporters. They've settled down, mostly, after the first flurry of media attention after the rescue, but occasionally there's still the leftover persistent one, looking for the angle that hasn't been done yet. This one, Sawyer figures, will knock on the front door, maybe peek in the windows if he's real determined, find no one home and leave. He swings his ax purposefully, his lips curling up in a satisfied smirk as the log splits perfectly.
The car door opens and closes; he sets his ax down – no need to draw attention to himself, now – and moves further back into the woods. Her woods, as he subconsciously thinks of them, and sometimes he can even imagine she's out there, roaming across the acres he'd bought with his share of the Oceanic settlement and the Mittelos Bioscience hush money. And of course that's not where she is now, in the woods; she's nowhere, under the ground by now, but he prefers to just pretend she's off climbing trees and picking fruit and tracking some damned animal, as she'd been when he'd first loved her.
He sits down on a fallen log and looks up, into the branches of a tall oak tree, and he can almost see her shimmying up its trunk, eyes sparkling and laughing at him because he can't follow her. His monkey girl, and his face darkens with the memories. “Damn you, Freckles,” he mutters, because it's easier to be angry at her than to miss her so intensely.
Footsteps, crunching through fallen leaves, snap him out of his thoughts and he stands, immediately on edge, reaching behind him to finger the gun in his back waistband. Old habits die fucking hard sometimes. A man, that damned reporter, is actually walking towards him, through his woods. Her woods. “What the hell you think you're doin'? No tresspassin', or can't you read?” He steps into the small clearing where he'd been chopping wood and jabs his thumb at the sign he'd posted on a nearby tree.
The man stops walking, holds up his hands in an innocent gesture. “I don't mean any harm, sir.” He's dressed neatly, city clothes, and carries a small notebook. Yep, definitely a reporter, and Sawyer snorts derisively.
“You don't mean no harm, then scram. Get offa my property. Story's been done, Walter. We crashed, lived offa boar and mangoes, y'all thought we were dead, and then surprise, we're not. End of story. Sorry to disappoint.”
A brow furrowed in mild confusion, the man shakes his head. “I'm not a reporter. You're...” Here he glances at the notebook in his hands. “James Ford?” Sawyer arches an eyebrow, neither confirming nor denying his given name, and the man tries again. “Sawyer?”
“Where'd ya hear that?” He snaps the question, angrily. Far as he knows, all the news reports had used their given names; he remembers the amused regret he'd felt at not knowing, on the island, that Hurley was really Hugo. And they certainly hadn't called her Freckles.
Apparently taking his response as positive confirmation, the stranger clears his throat, looking at the same time uncomfortable and determined. “I'm here about Katie.” His voice softens noticeably as he utters the name, but off Sawyer's blank look he continues. “Katie...Katherine Austen?”
That name. It sends a shudder down his spine, though he can't recall anyone ever calling her anything but Kate. Sawyer turns then, picks up his ax and sets up another log to split. He swings and listens to the resulting crack echo through the trees before speaking again. “She ain't here, hoss.” Another swing, another crack. “Or ain't you seen the news lately?”
“I know.” Now the man sounds almost sorrowful, and Sawyer shoots him a withering look; how does this stranger presume to know anything about his grief? “I just...needed to speak with someone who knew her.”
“And you figured I'd be the best one to ask?” Sawyer actually laughs now, and the sound is painful to his ears. “Hell, man, no one knew her. Now, scram so I can finish my choppin'. Gonna be a cold winter, they say.”
Several minutes later, Sawyer speaks up, his voice an angry snarl. “Thought you were leavin'.”
Silence, and Sawyer turns to see his visitor studying him intently. Finally, “They said I should talk to you.”
“Who the hell's they?”
“Your...friends.” The man glances once again at the notebook he's holding. “Dr. Shephard. Ms. Kwon. They said you knew her the best.”
“Doc, you son of a bitch.” Sawyer mutters it under his breath, quietly, angry despite being surprised Jack wouldn't have given himself that distinction. Louder, then, “They ain't my friends. What kind of sorry excuse for a reporter are you? Get lost. You're tresspassin', and you're lucky I ain't no fan of cops.” He turns around again, lifting the ax to his shoulder.
“I'm not a reporter.” Sawyer swings, and the man tries again, speaking over the sound of the cracking wood. “I'm her father.”
The ax drops to the ground, a dull thudding against the dirt and leaves, but Sawyer recovers quickly. “Hate to break it to ya, Daddio, but you're dead.” He turns, face darkened in anger; what kind of sick joker is this guy? “Shoulda done your homework. She blew you up.” He can hear the callous reporters droning the details of her crime, and at the moment, it doesn't sound like a bad idea.
There's a quiet sound from the man, something between a laugh and a sob. It grates on Sawyer's nerves. “Not me. That...that was Wayne.”
“Wayne, huh.” Something inside of Sawyer stirs at the name, but he doesn't know if it's because he's heard it, over and over, on the news reports he can't ignore, or if there's another reason. “And who the hell're you? Shoulda got your story straight, 'fore you came traipsin' out here.”
“I'm Sam. Sam Austen.” The man looks at Sawyer as if the name should mean something, but he's only rewarded with an angry stare in return. “Wayne was...her biological father. I am...was...” He shakes his head, his voice dropping to a hoarse whisper. “She called me Daddy.”
It takes Sawyer a moment to start breathing again. “Well, ain't that sweet,” he drawls, his casual tone belying the sickened feeling in his gut. Daddy. He's never imagined Kate calling anyone Daddy, and then he thinks maybe Jack had been wrong – he hadn't known her at all.
He starts walking then, and hears the man (Sam, he tells himself; Daddy) following. It pisses him off, but at the same time, he's not sure he wants him to leave. Not yet.
She'd shown up, unannounced of course, six days after he'd seen on the news that she'd escaped. He'd been pissed off more than anything – felt used, again, always – and he'd known that he would be the only one she'd ever run to. He was the only one who'd keep taking her in.
“Ain't you got another place to go? Someone else who'll harbor a fugitive for ya?” He'd said it mostly to make her angry, to see that fire back in her eyes.
It hadn't worked. “There isn't anybody else.”
He'd gotten tired of being her second choice, but not tired enough to turn her away.
“So, Pop, why weren't you there?” (In a typical meet-the-parents situation, Kate might have warned Sam about Sawyer's penchant for nicknames, but then again, nothing about this has ever been typical.)
“There. Y'know, there. For her. If I ain't mistakin', that's what a Daddy's supposed to be.” (She might have also warned him about Sawyer's habit of pissing people off just for the sake of pissing them off, but again, this is nowhere near typical, not even close.)
To his credit, Sam doesn't take the bait. They walk in silence a while longer before the older man speaks. “I met the plane in LA. Watched them walk her out of the gate. Cuffed.” A rough clearing of his throat. “I knew she'd run. Even when she was five years old, she couldn't stay cooped up for long.”
“Didn't see you there.” It's mostly for something to say, and it comes out rough and strangled. Five year old Kate is not someone Sawyer's ever even imagined existing, but he can see vividly in his mind's eye what Sam describes – he can see them cuffing her, already, on the beach, and he wants to pound something – someone – into the ground. He'd wanted to, then, but Jin had placed a hand on his arm and told him, carefully, not now. (And now has come, and it's terribly, horribly, too late.)
“I didn't stay with the rest of the families,” Sam admits, by way of explanation, and Sawyer finds himself nodding. It's not as if he'd stayed, either.
Sawyer stops when Sam crouches down unexpectedly, placing his hand on a disturbed area of underbrush. It's a strangely familiar stance, and suddenly it comes flooding back; carte blanche and tracking Boone for an hour and the look on her face when he'd held the baby boar, squealing, in his hands. For the second time since Sam has shown up, he has trouble breathing.
“Lots of deer in these woods.”
The casual tone of the older man's voice is jarring, and Sawyer shoves his hands in his pockets, roughly. “Guess so.” It occurs to him that he's surprised Sam, as if the man hadn't realized he was speaking aloud, and Sawyer clears his throat. “She learn that from you?”
Sam stands up abruptly and Sawyer has the distinct impression that he's disturbed some private moment – except these are his woods, her woods, and the privacy should be theirs alone. Sawyer tries again. “She learn that from you? That trackin' stuff?”
“She did that? On the island?” If it's possible, Sam sounds almost pleased.
Sawyer snorts softly at that. “Hell, the woman was always off on some damned adventure or another.” Irritation and affection juxtapose in his voice. “Helped me track a boar once.” (And the other inhabitants of the island who were trying to kill them, she tracked those, too, but Sawyer recalls the hush money and their warnings and although he has nothing left to lose, the other survivors do and he figures Sam doesn't need to know, anyway.)
“That's my girl.” Now Sam does sound pleased, and even proud, and Sawyer mutters something unintelligible and walks on.
They've circled around now (Sawyer won't take him too far into his woods; this doesn't need to get more personal than it already has) and are heading back towards the clearing and the house. It's almost becoming too much for him, the presence of Kate in this virtual stranger – the occasional, familiar facial expressions, turns of phrase, the quick, light, but deliberate movements through the forest. He needs this little reunion to be done, and now – but Sam breaks the silence instead.
“She was here, wasn't she.” It's not a question.
Sawyer looks around, as if searching for her, here. “What?”
“She was here.” Sam repeats it, slower, as if speaking to someone just slightly impaired. “She came here, or you brought her here...I don't know. But she was here; why else would we be walking around back here?”
“We're walkin' 'round back here 'cause you won't scram.” Sawyer's eyes flash angrily, though his tone has lost its usual defensive tone.
He'd woken up with her in his bed every morning for two weeks. She'd disappear during the days, off into the woods, and after the first two days of him pacing around the house and the yard and failing miserably (as she'd laughingly teased him) to track her among the trees, she'd told him to relax, go into work, she wasn't going to skip town while he was gone.
He was never quite sure if he could believe her. But, like always, he did as she said.
And for two weeks, she was true to her word. She'd come back in the evenings, cheeks flushed with the cooling air, often carrying something she'd found in the forest – a bunch of mushrooms she'd cook for their dinner, Sassafrass roots to boil for tea, or sometimes just a piece of wood, a stone, or a flower she'd found and liked. Her knickknacks, as he'd grumpily called them, still lined his kitchen windowsill.
“She was here,” Sawyer finally admits, reluctantly, feeling almost as if he's telling a secret that's not his to share. “Two weeks, 'fore she left again.”
Even in her leaving, she'd been true to her word. She hadn't left when he was gone; rather, he'd woken one night to see her standing by the bedroom window, bathed in moonlight. It wasn't until he sat up that he'd seen the bag by her feet.
“What's that, Freckles?”
She'd turned then, and even in the darkness he'd been able to read her face. You know what that is, Sawyer, it said, but he'd shaken his head. “C'mon back to bed, girl. It's dark out.”
“It's safer in the dark.”
He'd had to strain to hear her, and when he'd made out her words, his stomach had turned painfully. “Why now?”
She hadn't answered (and now Sawyer thinks perhaps there was no answer, just necessity) but she'd let him take her hand and pull her back to him. And he'd covered her with his body and asked her to stay the only way he knew how.
“Did you love her?” Sam's voice is earnest, as if this is the most important question he'll ask today.
She'd left the next night, instead. This time she wasn't swayed by his physical pleas, and she'd only gotten angry when he'd taken her bag and hidden it from her. He gave up, finally, and walked with her to the edge of the woods. “Be careful,” he'd urged, not caring how pathetic he'd sounded. “You know...where I am. If ya need a place again.”
She'd found his hand and squeezed it, held on a little too long. “Thanks, James.”
He'd waited until she'd taken a few steps into the woods before speaking again. “I love you.” One last try.
And he'd been shocked when she'd turned back, cupped his cheeks in her hands and kissed him, long and hard and deep. When she finally pulled away, their foreheads touching, breath mingling, she'd nodded slightly, slowly. “I know.” She'd kissed him again before turning away, and he'd watched until the darkness and the trees swallowed her up.
Sawyer can hear himself breathing.
Did you love her?
“That's why you're here, ain't it?”
They're in the clearing again, and by the looks Sam is throwing his car, Sawyer guesses he's gotten what he's come here for. And he wonders, briefly, how one says goodbye to Kate's Daddy, but then again, he's never been good at goodbyes, to begin with.
Sawyer frowns then, at the oddly placed sentiment. “Whatcha sorry for?”
“I failed her.” It's easy to hear the regret in Sam's voice.
Sawyer studies him for a long moment. “Everyone did.”
Only she would have heard in his accusing tone that he blames himself, most of all.
Alone again (Sawyer tells himself he prefers it that way), and somehow, as he watches the car pull away from his property, he feels like he's losing her all over again. He brings the ax up, muscles straining, and swings it back down until it falls onto the log with a cathartic crack.
A rustling noise in the woods behind him stops him from taking another swing and he turns, ax brandished as a weapon now. His body is tense (he still can't stop that involuntary reaction, leftover from months on the island) and after turning, he stands perfectly still.
It moves again before he sees it. He grips the ax a bit tighter.
“Well, I'll be damned.” His words are barely a whisper, more like a breath, and he remains stock still as a black horse steps out of the trees and into the clearing. It looks directly at Sawyer, into him, and he can feel a shudder run through his body before the creature gives a soft snort, tossing its head, and trots back out of sight.
Note: When Sawyer refers to Kate as his “monkey girl,” that nickname is blatantly stolen from the DVD commentary for What Kate Did, where director Paul Edwards calls Evangeline Lilly “monkey girl” in reference to her skillful tree climbing.