All characters (save one), settings, and anything else you recognize are copyright J. J. Abrams and co. I lay no claim to them and make no money off writing this.

This story was written pre-"Confidence Man", and thus might not be exactly true to the character, but I did the best I could with the information I had. It still works, if you turn your head sideways and squint.

And, oh, yeah: Big-ass warning for sexual assault. If that's not your cup of tea, just walk on.

In the Wild
by Maya Tawi


"Me? I'm in the wild."
--Sawyer, "Tabula Rasa"

Most of the time, Sawyer slept like the dead.

An unfortunate comparison to make, maybe, given the circumstances, but he'd never been one to dance around his words, to avoid unpleasant truths. So he'd almost died in the crash. Whoop-de-goddamn-do. Operative word being almost.

So Sayid was an Arab and Arabs blew up planes, Hurley was a fatass who ate more than his share of the rations, and Sawyer slept like the dead. Most of the time.

So he couldn't say for sure why he'd woken up so damn fast, except maybe some primal instinct, developed far beyond his own personal experience with handcuffs, after one too many drinks and one too many punches thrown, those few times he hadn't been able to get gone fast enough. But that was all it took, biting cold and a soft snikt, and he was wide awake and staring up at a face he couldn't quite see.

"What the hell," he began, and tried to sit up. He didn't get very far. It only took his still-sluggish mind a moment to realize, yes, he'd fallen asleep next to a damn tree, one of those small ones about as big around as a man's leg, and yes, someone had cuffed his damn hands above his head, around the other side of the tree. If he wanted to sit up, he'd have to wriggle.

Wriggling was not his top priority at the moment.

No further clues were forthcoming, so he blurted out the next thing that came to mind. "Sayid, you camelfucker, if that's you I'm gonna kick your--"

"Shh," a voice said, and a finger pressed against his lips.

Sawyer resisted the temptation to bite the finger, jerked his head away instead. "No, I will not fucking 'shh'. What the hell do you think you're--"

From the darkness, further down the beach, came a sleepy, accented voice. "Sawyer. Is everything all right?"

Sayid, of course. Sawyer scowled into the blackness. Sayid, which meant that the shadow currently looming over him wasn't Sayid. Which meant... well, fuck knew what that meant.

He opened his mouth to say, No, I'm not fucking all right, some jackhole just cuffed me to a fucking tree, and then something sharp pressed against his throat and the words died on his lips.

"'M fine," he croaked instead, still staring up at no one in particular.

"Please be quiet, then," Sayid mumbled, with a disgruntled rustle of fabric.

Fuck you too, asshole. Sawyer's mind raced, running through his options. They were depressingly scant. The knife was sharp, he could feel the goddamn knife was goddamn sharp. Too many damn people on this fucking island had weapons, and unfortunately he was no longer one of them.

In a low, hoarse voice, he said, "What do you want?"

The figure leaned closer; Sawyer felt the warm air on his face, smelled the breath of someone who hadn't bothered to find his toothbrush in the wreckage.

"You're everything I hate, Sawyer." He didn't recognize the voice. It was a male whisper, perfectly average and undistinguishable from every other male whisper. Unaccented, which narrowed the list of suspects down to Americans, Canadians, and anyone else who could do a reasonable job of faking either one. So not much at all, then.

Carefully he said, "I'm not feelin' much love for you myself at the moment."

"You're a smug fucking asshole," the man said, as though he hadn't even spoken. "So full of yourself. So damn sure you're the only one who knows what's really going on. You think you know so much better than the rest of us, don't you?"

Sawyer sneered, as much as he could bring himself to with the razor edge still digging into his throat. "Well, I'm pretty sure I'm better than you. Whatsa matter, the big boys pick on you in high school?"

"I knew there'd be someone for me." The knife pressed down on his throat, excruciatingly slow. "Someone among the survivors. Someone who needed to be cut down to size. I've been watching you."

Cool lips brushed his ear. "You're it, Sawyer."

Sawyer jerked away again, out of reflex, and felt a light scrape along the skin of his throat. A few seconds later, it was almost starting to hurt.

The thing was fucking sharp.

The knife repositioned, settling flush against the bottom of his chin. Could he get off a good kick before his throat got slit? Probably not. Forget yelling; by the time anyone woke up and found their way over to him, he'd be dead already, and the stranger vanished.

No other options... except to wait.

He clenched his teeth and watched the hovering face intently, straining to make out any details, but there just wasn't enough light. Vague impressions of features, but nothing solid, nothing memorable, and no hint as to what exactly the asshole wanted from him. He opened his mouth, not quite sure what he was about to say but prepared to make the effort anyway--

--and found lips covering own, tongue slipping between his teeth like some kind of snake. He started to bite down automatically, more shocked than outraged yet, and the knife gave his skin a warning press. Again the sickening feeling of flesh splitting without pain. He froze, then reluctantly relaxed his jaw again.

This guy was thorough. Sawyer narrowed his eyes, starting to seethe, as that tongue probed the inside of his mouth, brushing lightly over the roof of it. The kiss-- if it could even be called a kiss-- was harder than he was used to, demanding instead of accommodating, an assault instead of a yield, and the brush of stubble across his cheeks made his stomach clench. And yet, his mouth's first instinct, developed from years of experience, was to return the gesture with enthusiasm. His mouth could goddamn well sit down and shut up.

After too damn long, the guy pulled back. Sawyer bared his teeth into the darkness.

"You're dead, boy," he growled.

A flash of white teeth appeared, either a smile or an answering grimace, and that fucking whisper came again, blowing hot, moist breath into his ear. "Not if I see you first."

And then the knife was gone, and in the next instant the handcuffs were gone too (fucking Mystery Handcuffs, so that's where they'd gotten to; how'd the bastard get a key?) and Sawyer shot to his feet, spinning around wildly and finding absolutely no one there. Further down the beach, the still forms of the other survivors were shadowy bumps in the moonlight.

Not a creature was stirring....

His shoulders ached. His face burned. The guy's unwashed taste was still in his mouth, and he spit, then scrubbed his mouth on his sleeve.

It was a long time before he sat down again, far away from the tree, his body tensed and his hands in front of him, flat against the sand. He kept his eyes narrowed and gazed at nothing in particular, and before long the first light of dawn began to appear over the horizon.

Later that day, Sawyer sat on a large stone outcropping and smoked, watching the water, ignoring the others as they around the crash site on whatever damn errand or mission of mercy Jack and His Gang had cooked up this time. As far as he could tell, it involved shifting the burned bits of the fuselage around. He supposed he could ask someone, but that would require actually giving a shit.

His fingers twitched with barely-suppressed frustration, and he nearly dropped his cigarette. He scowled at it and jammed the filter in his mouth, inhaling with a ferocity that nearly made him cough. He hated just sitting. Sitting and not kicking the ass of the fuckhole who'd harassed him last night, but what else was there to do? He'd stormed around that morning, once everyone else had woken up, corralling the survivors he hadn't met yet, but quickly realized that there were too many of them, too easy for someone to slip off while he wasn't looking, and he might not even recognize the guy if he saw him.

So he sat, and smoked, and tried not to think.

Behind him, Kate said, "You could help, you know."

Sawyer didn't turn around. He exhaled a lungful of smoke and said, "Darlin', I don't even know what the fuck you're doing. And before you bother enlightening me, I sure as hell don't care."

She waded into the water, circling around the outcropping, and peered up at him. Her jeans were rolled up to her knees. She was carrying a padded chair and an umbrella, and now Sawyer officially had no clue what was going on. "What happened to your neck?"

His fingers went automatically to the twin red lines. "Cut myself shaving," he said. "Happy? Are you done pokin' around my business now?"

Kate gave him one last look and strode off without a backward glance. Sawyer took a swig from the glass bottle next to him and turned his head, admiring her ass as she strode back up the beach.

Dinner was more of the boar, cooked over the fire, and that thing wasn't gonna last much longer now. They were keeping the fire going twenty-four seven now. Sawyer wondered idly how long it'd take them to run out of wood.

Sixteen years, maybe.

Perched on a rock just outside the circle of survivors, he chewed his boar with unnecessary violence and watched the faces gathered around the campfire, looking for a familiar flash of teeth, listening for a depressingly generic whisper. Over the course of the day, the-- what? Stealth kisser? Freak show with a knife?-- had become less threatening in his memory, and more of a simple situation he'd handled badly. He'd just lain there, for fucksake. Could've at least kicked the guy in the balls.

He watched narrowly as Kate leaned over and said something to Hero Jack, as the dizzy blonde bitch and her goody-goody brother squabbled over some damn thing or other, as Sayid offered everyone a second helping of boar. It occurred to him, not for the first time that day, that it might not be a bad idea to inform the others they had a predator in their midst. Forty-seven survivors left; figured one of them would end up being some kind of psychopath. And they'd thought the worst they had to worry about was goddamn polar bears and giant pigs and whatever the hell was knocking down trees. Someone ought to give 'em a heads-up....

Fortunately, the voice of Sawyer's conscience was small, and he was used to ignoring it. He'd slit his own damn throat before he told those smug sons-of-bitches that some guy had cuffed him to a tree and kissed him within an inch of his life, and oh yeah, by the way, I don't even know what the hell he looks like, so good luck with that.

No, they could fend for themselves, and he'd do the same. He definitely wasn't sleeping next to any fucking trees tonight. In fact, he didn't think he'd sleep after all. Just stay awake and wait for dawn again-- although he was so fucking tired already, he hadn't got enough sleep, though he could usually run on less sleep than that, if only they had some damn coffee....

He felt his head start to slip sideways, and jerked upright, nearly tumbling off his rock. Maybe the whole rock thing wasn't such a good idea. Maybe he'd just ease himself down into the sand, where it was nice and soft, and just lay down for a few minutes....

This time Sawyer woke more slowly, with a pounding head and a mouth full of cotton and a nevertheless persistent sense of déjà vu. His stomach heaved, and he managed to keep the boar down through sheer force of will. If he puked now, he'd probably choke on it.

The boar. The boar....

"Th'damn boar," he slurred, trying to sit up and, once again, failing. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. "You drugged me!"

"You're quicker than you look." The whisper was back, the whisper and the bad breath. "The others thought you were just drunk. Jack knows you scavenged the booze, after all. They dragged you off to your favorite sleeping spot. Very sweet of them."

Sawyer shook his head again. This wasn't making sense. This was the complete opposite of sense. "Wha'd'you want?"

"Well," the man purred, "I could tell you. Or I could just take it."

This time he was prepared, and he lashed out with his boots as the figure bent over him, aiming high, aiming for the gut. But his legs were slow, slow and weak, and the man easily batted them away.

Helpless fury rose in Sawyer's chest. "Wha'd you give me?" he hissed. And then, as another thought struck him: "Where'd you get it?"

"The good doctor has collected quite the medicine chest. He might not even notice what's missing."

Sawyer waited until he could feel the breath on his face again, and then reared up, slamming his forehead into something that yielded with a gratifying smack. His shoulders strained and his head throbbed some more, but for a brief moment, the fierce swell of victory drowned out every other sensation. And then, in the next instant, victory drained away; he was still handcuffed, he was still flat on his back, and there was the now-familiar sensation of a blade against his throat.

He breathed shallowly and closed his eyes, waiting.

"You should have called for help when you had the chance," the whisper told him, sounding somewhat more breathless than before. "But you're just too proud, aren't you? You don't need anyone else."

"Get it over with," Sawyer said through clenched teeth, "and stop boring me to goddamn death."

He wasn't sure what he expected-- another foul-tasting kiss, maybe, or just the stroke of the knife across his throat. He definitely didn't expect the hand that settled on the button of his jeans.

His eyes flew open, and his hips bucked up of their own accord, trying to dislodge the hand. It pressed down in response, action and reaction, with the knife a handy counterpoint besides. Sawyer held himself still and trembled with the effort of not doing his damnedest to bash the motherfucker's skull in.

That hand went back to work on his button, and Sawyer sucked in deep lungfuls of air and said, in a voice perilously close to desperation, "Look, I don't know what your fucking deal is, but I'm not--"

"What you are or are not, Sawyer, has fuck-all to do with me."

"--not your damn bitch, you goddamn son of a--"

And then the edge of the knife pressed against his lips, and he abruptly stopped talking.

The man waited for what seemed like a very long time, a shadow frozen in a crouch, as other sounds slowly filtered in to fill the void: the lapping of the waves, the crackle of flames, the sound of forty-five other people deep in sleep, and God, if one of them would just wake up and come over here, and he didn't even care anymore if it was Kate or Jack or goddamn Sayid, just someone....

But no one stirred, and finally the man exhaled and said softly, "If you raise your voice again, I will stick this knife in a very uncomfortable place."

What, Sawyer's memory supplied hysterically, like the back of a Volkswagen? But he closed his mouth as the knife traced a line back to his throat, and stared up at the trees above him and the pinpricks of starlight beyond the leaves, and managed not to react much at all as his jeans were pulled down around his thighs and his very much so, thank you flaccid dick was pulled out into the humid night air.

Then the hand disappeared for a moment, and came back cool and wet with spit, and Sawyer gritted his teeth and dug his fingernails into the bark of the tree behind him.

He'd never had trouble getting off. He knew some guys, friends of his, who could just be not in the mood and it wouldn't happen, or in the mood anyway, and still. Not Sawyer. From his very first sojourn with a girlie mag behind locked doors, he'd been easy and sure as a well-oiled machine-- stroke, stroke, boom.

He clung to a bit of hope, but that hope evaporated almost immediately, and he felt his stomach knot as he realized he was getting hard. Getting hard and getting off. Shit, shit, shit, fuck, fuck--

Sawyer bit his lower lip hard as he came, felt teeth sinking into flesh, drawing blood, and somehow managed not to make a sound.

It took him a moment to re-gather his scattered wits. When he did, his hands were free and he was alone again.

He laid for a long time in the sand, gazing at the scraps of sky above his head and thinking of nothing in particular. Eventually, he stood and pulled up his jeans, walked down to the shoreline, and kept walking.

The cold, salty water was a shock, bringing him back to himself a little. He walked until it was about chest-high, for just a split second contemplated walking some more, until the water closed over his head; dragged him down, pulled him into the darkness....

Just a split second, and then he set his jaw, scrubbed himself the best he could, and waded back to the beach, where he grabbed his cigarettes-- precious few packs left, now-- and climbed up on his outcropping to wait. He wouldn't be getting any more sleep that night either.

The next morning wasn't much different from the day before. Sawyer stayed on his rock, watched the water, and ignored everybody else.

He could feel them staring at him, probably whispering. Wondering what the hell was going on. Well, he hadn't been his usual charming self lately. Their loss.

He just didn't know what to do. And Sawyer wasn't the type to ponder; he didn't worry about things, he took care of them, one way or another. Let 'em happen, or made them happen. Except he didn't know who the guy was, so he couldn't kick his ass. And he couldn't tell anyone about it, because no one on the whole goddamn island gave a shit about him, and they wouldn't help if they did. Fucking hero Jack and his very good aim, or very bad aim. Har-de-fucking-har.

No cops. Not that he would've called the cops in a normal situation, but it wasn't even an option here.

Well. There was Kate....

Yeah, he had nothing.

Sometime around midday he started to feel a little woozy, lack of sleep or maybe dehydration. He thought about climbing down off the outcropping, retreating back to his little grove, getting a drink or maybe napping a bit. But suddenly it seemed too much effort. And he didn't want to move. There was a kind of comfort to inertia. If he didn't move, he was safe.

Safe. Like a deer in fucking headlights.

Sawyer became vaguely aware of small, discreet splashes nearby, like the deer in his head come to life and tiptoeing through the surf. He raised his head to glare at whatever do-gooder had come to keep him company, and found himself staring at the back of the geisha lady's head. Japanese. Chinese. Whatever. Point was, she didn't speak English and she was standing there in the water, completely ignoring him.

He scowled at her anyway, but she didn't notice and it was too much effort to keep it up. After a moment the scowl slipped away, and he propped his chin on his hand and watched thoughtfully as she circled around his rock, seeming absorbed in the plants sprouting from the wet sand.

Finally he couldn't take it anymore. "And a good morning to you too."

Geisha Lady jumped a little, looking up at him and shielding her eyes against the sun. Sawyer sketched a lazy salute and lit another cigarette. After a moment, she gave him a tentative nod and went back to her plants.

Sawyer exhaled, studying her as she crouched by a particularly lush patch of green. She ran her fingers through what looked like nothing more than tall grass, and then began to carefully select different leaves-- considering one, then discarding it.

"Me? I'm fine," Sawyer said into the silence. "Doing great."

She glanced up at him again, then said something in Chinese-or-whatever. Probably something like I don't know what the hell you're saying, moron, Sawyer thought, and almost smiled.

"Well," he said, after a pause, "not so great, actually. I mean, I wasn't expecting hugs and puppies from everybody, but this one asshole...."

He trailed off. This was ridiculous. He didn't need to tell anyone. He didn't need anything, not when he could look after himself.

Geisha gave him a quizzical look, cocking her head to one side, and rattled off another incomprehensible sentence.

"Oh, what the hell," Sawyer said. "Might as well tell you. You're probably the only one won't bust my balls about it, anyhow."

She blinked.

And Sawyer found himself telling her the whole sordid story-- well, not the whole story, not the way he'd come all over himself, not that brief moment in the ocean, not a bunch of other things he was more ashamed over than outraged-- but enough of it, telling it in a flat, detached monotone that didn't even sound like his voice. And Geisha kept poking around in her plants, glancing up every once in a while, furrowing her brow like a therapist making reassuring mmm-hmm noises even when he's not paying attention. And maybe there was something to all that therapy bullshit, because she didn't understand a damn word he was saying and it still felt a little better to get it all out. A little.

Yeah, maybe not.

His cigarette had burned down to the filter; Sawyer stubbed it out and flicked the butt into the ocean. "And that's my tale o' woe. How 'bout you? You feel like sharing, Sunshine?"

As if on cue, an angry outburst of Chinese (or whatever) floated down the beach. Geisha's husband, Sawyer knew without looking, and not the best at sharing his toys.

Geisha stood slowly, wiping her hands on her cardigan.

"Best get a move on, girl," Sawyer said, closing his eyes. "Don't think your man there likes to be kept waiting."

He didn't watch her walk away, but he was pretty sure he felt her glancing back at him as she did.

Sawyer didn't eat dinner. He drank water from his secret stash, hung back from the fire, and glared at the gathered castaways with eyes that felt like sandpaper.

He was fucking starving, but no way was he gonna fall for that trick again.

Nobody tried to talk to him. Nobody asked why he wasn't eating. He thought he saw Geisha glance at him once, looking worried, but that was probably wishful thinking, and what did he care anyway? He didn't need them, they didn't need him.

Yeah, and maybe if he thought it enough he'd start to believe it.

After everyone else fell asleep, or at least made a damn good show of it, Sawyer was still sitting at the very edge of the treeline, watching the beach. The dark was starting to play tricks on his eyes, making him see shifting bits of light that weren't there. Or maybe that was lack of sleep. He just wanted to lay down for a bit. He couldn't.

He wouldn't.

And then he didn't know how much time had passed, and he hadn't fallen asleep but maybe he hadn't exactly been paying attention either, but at least his hands were draped over his knees and not in easy cuffing position, and then suddenly there was a presence at his back and the fucking knife at his throat and a voice in his ear hissing, "You're starting to learn the rules."

Sawyer held himself very still. "I ain't playin' a game, here," he said quietly.

"That makes one of us."

"I wasn't lying before. Soon as I find out who you are, you're dead."

"Think you can do it, Sawyer?" The knife trailed down into the hollow of his throat, across his collarbone. Sawyer swallowed. "I don't. I'm thinking you're all talk."

"Try me," he said through gritted teeth.

"I thought I already did." And then, as Sawyer started to see red, the knife nicked the edge of his right collarbone, and he doubled over with a sharp intake of breath. It took all his self-control not to cry out.

By the time his breath had evened out again and the pain had subsided to a dull throb, the man was gone. Somehow Sawyer wasn't surprised at all.

He wore a high-necked shirt the next day. There were only so many shaving-related injuries a man could pick up in the space of three days, and this one was even less plausible than the last.

He was back in his grove, rummaging through his stash and trying not to be desperate about finding that fucking bottle of Jack Daniels that he knew he'd stowed there recently, goddamn it, when he heard footsteps behind him and leapt to his feet, brandishing a large branch, a snarl already forming on his lips.

Geisha Lady gave the branch a considering look, then caught his eye and pointed at the path behind him.

Sawyer narrowed his eyes. She raised her eyebrows, obviously impatient, and pointed again. Sawyer sighed loudly and turned around.

Weaving his way through the trees, about a hundred yards away, was a man Sawyer had never seen before. Or, no-- at second glance, he recognized him as one of the survivors, a plain, middle-aged man who had utterly failed to register on Sawyer's radar.

As he watched, a cold feeling settled into the pit of his stomach. Something about the way the man moved....

He spun back around and demanded, incredulous, "Him?"

Geisha nodded. Her eyes looked very dark.

Sawyer dropped the branch. He felt his mouth move. After a moment, he remembered how to form words. "But-- you-- English-- you don't--"

And then he fell silent, because Geisha had just carefully rearranged her face into a mask of polite incomprehension. She gave him a polite nod and then just turned and walked back to the beach.

Well. Wasn't that interesting. Geisha Lady had a secret. Well, he'd keep hers as long as she kept his.

Speaking of which....

Sawyer glanced over his shoulder. The man Geisha had indicated was almost out of sight. Without having any real plan in mind, he started to move through the trees, as quietly as he could.

They wended their way through the forest for a good fifteen minutes, Sawyer hanging back out of sight an earshot, a cold rage slowly building in his chest. The jackass thought Sawyer wouldn't be able to find him? Yeah, good luck with that.

Finally the man emerged into a small clearing. A small suitcase was propped open against a rock, presumably salvaged from the crash. Squinting at it from the cover of the trees, Sawyer saw a shaving kit, a couple of knives-- not like that crazy old guy Locke's, more utilitarian than those, like plain old kitchen knives-- and the handcuffs. Sawyer rubbed the bruised skin around his wrists and felt his gut clench. He stepped towards the clearing... and then stopped again.

It was the way the guy moved, confident and assured, almost graceful, like a born predator. Sawyer wouldn't have admitted it for anything, but he just wasn't sure what to do. Sneak up on him, sure... but then what?

He wasn't exactly eager to admit it, but the fact was, Sawyer was no fighter, not really. Oh, he threw a mean punch, he knew some dirty tricks, and he was damn good at kicking people in the ribs once they were already down, but that was about it. He could hold his own in barroom brawls, but there wasn't much art to winning when your opponent wasn't sure which of you he was actually trying to hit. And never mind trying to keep a fight going more than three minutes with smoker's lungs.

He'd never let that stop him before, of course, but this was different. This wasn't just some fight. This was damn bloody revenge, and he had to get it right.

Then he remembered that voice-- Think you can do it, Sawyer?-- and the red haze started to descend again. Sawyer set his jaw, stormed into the clearing, and then, as the guy turned to him in surprise, took aim and swung for the face.

He never connected. The bastard sidestepped, and for a brief moment there was the dizzying sensation of falling, of taking a step and realizing the ground wasn't where it was supposed to be; and then a hand knocked his fist out of the way and wrapped around his wrist, a foot caught him in the gut, and as he doubled over, gasping for breath, bright red pain blossomed in his kidneys. The next thing Sawyer knew, his knees were hitting the ground hard and he slumped over, supporting himself with his free elbow, gagging and trying not to throw up.

And then a knee planted itself in the small of his back, right where the kidney punch had landed, slamming him flat on his stomach against the ground. Waves of agony rippled through his abdomen, and Sawyer heard himself yell.

His captured wrist was wrenched up behind his back, and then oh God oh God that warm breath at his ear again, the stink of unwashed mouth, and that fucking voice again, purring, "Nice try."

"Get off me," Sawyer managed to gasp, still trying to catch his breath. He squirmed, flailing behind him with his free hand, and then the man grabbed that wrist too and it joined the other behind his back.

"Why should I? You attacked me, I'm just defending myself." And then, sounding amused, the man added, "You might not want to keep wriggling like that. I'm just saying."

Sawyer froze.

"What do you want?" he asked after a moment, and there wasn't enough hate in the world for the way his voice cracked when he spoke.

A wet, slimy tongue trailed down the side of his neck. Sawyer jerked his head away, shuddering, and the man whispered, "I could swear we've already been through this."

"You're dead," Sawyer said, keeping his voice even through sheer force of effort. "You're dead, and I'm gonna kill you, and I'm gonna laugh, you motherfucker, I'm gonna rip your heart right outta yer fucking chest--"

The sound of his own name cut him off-- far away, carrying on the wind. A male voice. Jack?

Well, fuck.

"We'll finish this later," the man on top of him said, and before Sawyer could respond, before he could even figure out how to possibly respond to that, the back of his head exploded and the world mercifully went dark.

He woke up a few minutes later to find Jack's face inches from his.

Sawyer reacted instinctively, his fist shooting out, but the effort made his head pound like a fucking drum major and the punch collapsed about halfway to its target. Jack caught his fist anyway, like he was a kid having a damn temper tantrum.

Sawyer jerked his hand away. "Don't fucking touch me."

"Don't move," Jack said, like he hadn't even heard. He was crouched down, all Professional Doctor Mode. "You might have broken ribs, internal injuries--"

"I have some moron poking me where I don't need pokin', that's what I got. Where'd he go?"

Jack glanced over his shoulder, and for the first time Sawyer noticed Kate, hanging back at the edge of the clearing. He suppressed a groan. Fucking fantastic.

"You were alone when we found you," Jack said after a silence. "The Korean woman said you were in trouble. Well, not in so many words, but, uh, we worked it out." He paused. "Who did this?"

Korean? Whatever. Sawyer shook his head, then immediately regretted it. The guy'd clocked him a good one. "Fuck off, Hero."

"Headache?" Jack grabbed Sawyer's head, running callused hands through his hair; Sawyer slapped at the hands and gave him a bleary glare. "You might have concussion. Look, just don't move--"

"I said, back the fuck off." Sawyer scooted away and started to stand, but a pulling, tearing pain in his back made him reconsider. "Jesus Christ!"

He fell back to his knees, panting, and heard Jack's sharp intake of breath. "You're bleeding. Hang on, I don't have any bandages--" This last was muffled, and Sawyer glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Jack pulling off his T-shirt and ripping off the hem.

"Real sanitary, Doc," Sawyer said through clenched teeth.

Jack ignored him. "I'm just gonna wipe away the blood, get some idea of how bad the wound is. Okay?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Sure," Jack said, as he started dabbing at Sawyer's back. "You could walk away and maybe bleed to death. Wait a minute--"

"What?" Sawyer demanded, when no further information was forthcoming. "What the hell's going on?"

"It's not just a cut," Jack said slowly. "It looks like... it's a word. It says...."

He trailed off.

"What?" Sawyer said again, twisting around to try to get a glimpse of his back. "What's it say?"

No answer. Sawyer fixed Jack with a glare. "What?"

Jack looked stunned. "I don't... uh, it says... um...."

"It says 'mine'," Kate said quietly.

Sawyer's mouth went dry.

After a long moment, Jack asked, "What's going on, man? If there's a problem--"

Problem. Ha. "Yeah, I got a problem, all right," Sawyer spat. He climbed unsteadily to his feet, grabbing onto a nearby tree for support. "My problem is people who don't mind their own damn business."

Jack stood too. "Hey, I'm just trying to help, all right?"

"I said, fuck off, Doctor," Sawyer snapped, and it felt good, it really did. "I don't need your goddamn pity."

He fully expected Jack to press the issue, because after all that's what heroes did. Instead, Jack's face just closed down, like Venetian blinds snapping shut. "Fine," he said tightly. "Do what you want. I honestly don't care."

"Surprise, surprise," Sawyer jeered.

Jack turned and strode out of the clearing without a backwards glance. Kate gave Sawyer an unreadable look, which he met with a snarl, then followed her boyfriend like a good little puppy dog.

Left alone again, Sawyer closed his eyes and let out a long, shaky breath. All the adrenaline had drained from his body, leaving him feeling weak and unsteady. The cuts on his back throbbed in time with his heartbeat, like a chant. Mine. Mine. Mine, mine, mine.

He took one last look around before he, too, left the clearing. The suitcase was gone. Somehow he didn't think the man would be coming back here.

"I need a knife," he said to Locke that evening.

"That's a rather bold statement," the old man said.

"I'm a bold guy."

The crazy old guy was sitting cross-legged in the sand, one hand resting on his knife case, as he watched the others from a distance. Sawyer had waited all afternoon to catch him alone.

He hadn't seen the man, the ordinary-looking middle-aged man who moved like a predator, since he'd returned to the beach. He had the sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't, not until the guy wanted to be seen.

"And what, pray tell, do you need this weapon for?" Locke had a weird, almost sing-song way of speaking, like a charismatic preacher, the kind who could mesmerize his flock with a few well-chosen words. Which was the second strike against him in Sawyer's book, the first one being that time he'd thrown a knife very close to Sawyer's head.

"It's personal," Sawyer said now.

Locke rocked back and forth a little.

"I'm not the type to make a man tell what he doesn't want to tell," he said after a moment. "A man's business is his own. Or a woman's, mind you. I'm a firm believer in that fact."

"Yeah," Sawyer said, "I can see that 'but' coming a mile away. Spit it out, old man."

Locke smiled. "You're not an unintelligent young man."

"Gee, thanks. Can I have a damn knife?"

"Tell you what," Locke said. "I will give you a knife, I promise you that much. But before I do, you have to tell me why you want it."

Lost my toenail trimmer, Sawyer almost said, or something equally inane. If they guy was gonna give it to him anyway, who the hell cared if it was the truth or not? Truth had never exactly been Sawyer's stock in trade.

So he wasn't sure why he met Locke's eyes and said evenly, "I'm gonna disembowel the fuckhole who tried to rape me."

Probably the same reason he'd confided in the Geisha-- the Chinese-- the Korean woman. Which, he didn't know the answer to that either.

Locke held his gaze for another long moment, just long enough for Sawyer to get nervous. But he didn't look away.

And then Locke opened his case, selected a knife with obvious care, and held it out to Sawyer, hilt-first. "This'll do."

Sawyer tucked the knife and its sheath into his waistband, and that night he was back at his old sleeping spot, making a show of trying to stay awake. Then he made a show of seeming to fall asleep.

Then he laid very still in the dark, eyes open, waiting.

It wasn't long before he heard soft footsteps and felt a presence crouch down next to him. Sawyer whipped the knife out, and in one smooth movement he sat up and lunged--

Kate disarmed him faster than he could blink.

Sawyer opened his mouth, then shut it again. His heart was pounding. He could feel the cuts in his back starting to bleed again. Mine. Mine. Mine.

Kate looked similarly shocked. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she demanded.

He gaped at her. "Me? What the hell are you doing?"

"I thought you might want to talk," Kate said. She still looked incredulous, like she couldn't quite believe what had just happened. "Apparently not."

"I was asleep!"

"No," she said. "You weren't."

Fine. So his acting skills weren't good enough to fool Kate, Girl Detective. Sawyer tried to keep his voice even. "Give me back the knife. Please."

She looked at it, turning it over in her hand. "Who were you planning to kill with this, exactly?"

"Not you," Sawyer said, "and not your boyfriend. Which makes it none of your business." He tried to grab for it, and she moved it deftly out of his reach.

"Sawyer," she began.

"Kate," he said, "give it to me."

She just looked at him. Looked at him and waited.

Through gritted teeth, he said, "Use that pretty little head of yours for once. Think about exactly what that sick fuck carved into my back today."

She thought about it, and then she got it. Her expression didn't change, but he could see it in her eyes. This time, when she looked at him, it felt like those eyes were crawling under his skin.

"Good job," he all but snarled. "Now give me the goddamn knife."

Kate looked torn. "You don't have to do this. We could--" And then she broke off, because there was fuck-all that "we" could do, and she knew it.

Sawyer gave her a sardonic look. "Right. You go call the cops. I'll wait."

She stared at the knife again. After a long, pregnant pause, she held it out to him-- the same way Locke had, hilt-first.

He grabbed it out of her hand and, in the next moment, pressed the tip against her throat. She flinched but didn't move.

In a low, grating voice he almost didn't recognize as his, Sawyer said, "Now forget every damn thing you just figured out. You understand me?"

Kate stared at him, her expression as impenetrable as a brick wall.

He tightened his grip, pressed the knife forward the tiniest bit. "Understand?"

"Yes," she said softly, and swallowed.

Sawyer slammed the knife back into its sheath and leaned back again, folding his arms over his chest. "Good girl. Fuck off."

For a moment, she looked like she was going to say something else. Sawyer narrowed his eyes, and after another second she stood and walked away.

Sawyer burrowed back down in his blankets, once again trying to pretend to sleep. He stayed awake all night. Nobody else came near.

In the morning, the handcuffs were lying empty next to his bedding.

Sawyer never sees the man again, but he doesn't relax. He knows better. He keeps the handcuffs in his pocket, in case he ever needs them. And when the split comes, as he knows it must, he stays on the beach.

Here on the beach, there are fewer places to hide.

Here, he can see people coming.


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