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Worth

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One duffel bag. Sawyer looked at his worldly possessions scattered all around him, the things he’d gathered from those who didn’t need them anymore, whose bones now lay on the bottom of the ocean floor. Where his might soon be. Probably would be.

And he realized, looking at the one duffel bag that Michael had allotted him to take on the raft, that he had very little of his own on this island. All these things he’d hoarded like a pirate, and none of them his. He braced his elbows on his upraised knees and rested his chin on his knuckles. The duffel bag was still empty.

The wind billowed softly through his shelter, bringing the acrid scent of nearby campfires on the beach, snatches of conversation woven with gently crashing waves. Somewhere not so far away Charlie crooned a lullaby to the little critter in Claire’s arms. Sawyer sighed, rubbing his thumbs against his lower lip.

“You want somethin’, Freckles?”

She didn’t say anything, just stood there outside his shelter with her head to the side, watching him from under her lashes like she always did, curls blowing across her face. Except for the occasional blink, she could have been a statue planted in the sand.

Little fingers of tension tightened around Sawyer’s throat. He swallowed to loosen them, but they squeezed up again. “If you’re waiting for me to dance around or...or to juggle, or some shit, you’ll be waiting a while. I’m kinda busy here.”

Finally she moved. Smiled a little. “Yeah, you’ve got that packing to do.” She eyed the empty duffel.

Sawyer returned her smile, and the fingers on his throat squeezed a little more. “Yeah.”

She knelt beside him, her knees sinking into the sand. “What you said earlier, about there not being anything here worth staying for.”

He waited, staring at her cheek, avoiding her eyes. When she didn’t finish, and didn’t seem to be heading in that direction, he made a noise in his throat like a cough or a laugh. “Are you gonna...be worth stayin’ for? Kate?”

It seemed to affect her somehow, him saying her name. She looked away for a moment, pushed the hair away from her face. Blinked a little into the distance, where the waves were breaking silver just off the beach. “I don’t want to be anybody’s reason, Sawyer.”

He didn’t really have anything to say to that, though he wished he did. Kate crawled in front of him in the sand, little steps on her knees, until she was kneeling between his legs. She took his hands in hers, a little hesitantly, and pulled them down to his sides. Sawyer saw a bruise on her forearm in the shape of fingers, and remembered yanking her around earlier, spilling her secrets out onto the sand for everyone to see. Thought he might actually be sorry about that after all.

She looked sad, like she often did, and a little scared, and she put her fingers on his cheeks and leaned in. He wanted to stop her, which didn’t make any sense at all, ladies’ man like him. But Sawyer found himself frozen, as still as the statue she’d been earlier, and Kate rested her lips against his mouth like she was planning to leave them there indefinitely.

Somewhere, between the peach fuzz softness of her skin and the infinitesimal catch in her breathing, a little blossom of pain opened up in Sawyer’s chest. In an effort to deny the pain and the reason for it he opened his mouth and kissed her back, nudging her lips with his tongue. It was different this time, no coppery tang of his own blood, no medicine to lie about, no slivers under his fingernails, but the shape of her mouth he remembered, and the scent of her, the feel of her hair drifting across his face. Those things he thought about often.

The blossom grew, unfurling in a red haze between his ribs, and he pulled her forward with his hands on her shoulders, fingers struggling for purchase on her sweat-slick skin. Kate gripped his hair in her fists, kissing him fiercely, kissing him like he’d wanted her to the first time, like they might have if so many other things hadn’t taken precedence. She crawled up against him, tucking herself tighter between his legs, until that wasn’t close enough and he was lifting her up so that she straddled his thighs, pressing her heat against his crotch and the red blossom spread like blood in water, saturating his whole body in scarlet pain, which could so easily be mistaken for pleasure.

Sawyer fisted a hand in Kate’s hair and yanked back, harder than he probably needed to, and her face was flushed in the darkness, her eyes heavy-lidded, her lips swollen and parted. “Sawyer,” she whispered, and her mouth saying his name was beautiful, but a lie.

“James. My name is James,” he said, and it felt so good to say it, and she absorbed it, moved it around in her mouth silently, then nodded. She reached up and pulled the cord that released the sheet over the opening of the shelter, and the thin fabric unfurled to offer them relative, albeit fluttering, privacy.

He slid his hands beneath her tank top and shimmied it up over her head, pressing his face into the soft skin just below collarbone and above breast as he unclasped her bra and discarded that too. Her nipples hardened in the cool night air, teasing his cheeks, and he liked her gasp of pleasure at the rasp of his beard against them, so he did it over and over until she was arching backwards, her spine like a bow, and he bit at the little nubs of resilient flesh until she broke the silence on a desperate moan.

Sawyer wondered, as her hands made short work of his t-shirt and headed toward his jeans, if she liked to be on top. She seemed like the kind of girl who liked to be in control. He thought of her riding him, watching her hips flex and her breasts bounce above him, thought of all the other girls who’d been in her place before her, and caught her around the waist, flipping her to the ground.

Kate blinked at him in astonishment, clearly thrown off track, but let him slide the jeans down her legs and off, and his cock throbbed in time to his heartbeat to see she went commando just like him. He lifted her hips, dragged her forward and up to press his open mouth against the sweet spot of skin between hip and pubic hair, scraping his teeth against her and making her squeak. His fingers sifted through her curls, tested the wetness, the softness of her inner heat, and he slid his tongue once against her center to get her taste in his mouth, then pulled her back under him.

She was panting, and the sadness in her eyes had transmuted to desperation, which made the red blossom flare in his chest again. He wanted too many things at once; he wanted to make love to her slowly, he wanted to fuck her senseless and leave her crying, he wanted to spend hours on the foreplay alone, he wanted to marry her, he wished he’d never met her. He held himself above her, paralyzed with uncertainty and need, working her taste through his mouth.

In the end Kate made the decision for him, swallowing hard and reaching down to guide him inside her. Sawyer hissed as her body eased slickly around him, welcoming him, and Kate’s eyes grew wet, though it didn’t seem to be from pain. Sawyer braced himself on one arm and with his other hand touched her forehead, her hair. She looked like someone on the verge of dying, and he wondered what he looked like to her. When she said “James” under her breath he began to move, and she met him with body and mouth.

At first there was no rhythm; fast, slow, deep, shallow, too much too soon not enough. Kate shoved a couple of times on his shoulder in the universal signal of ‘let me be on top,’ but Sawyer ignored her, pinning her on her back, and eventually they found a rhythm, a push and pull that was uniquely their own.

Sawyer kissed her, because her mouth was the first thing he’d fallen in love with (he could admit that now, that he loved her, when he didn’t love anyone ever), and because he couldn’t look in her eyes anymore, which were so dark and deep, and he had a fear of drowning. She was trying to speak against his mouth, and her fingers were curling into the nape of his neck, the hollow of his hip, guiding his strokes. Sawyer sealed up whatever words she was trying to say inside her mouth, stopping them with his tongue, because he didn’t want to hear what she had to tell him. It didn’t matter, not now, not anymore. Not after tomorrow.

Kate hooked her ankle up in the small of his back, shifting him deeper on his next stroke, and the angle was too perfect to last, and he stifled her cry with his hand over her mouth, and bit into the soft skin between her neck and shoulder to silence himself when he came. All the blossoming red under his skin flared white hot, and it was just pleasure now, no pain at all, and he had a fleeting thought that he’d never had a feeling as clean as this one. It seemed to last forever, like an earthquake—seconds in the reality, a lifetime in the living. He shuddered into her, riding her aftershocks and his own, feeling her lips still moving against his palm, knowing what she was saying (lovelovelove) and trapping the word. Keeping it in his fist when he moved his hand away.

He rolled away slowly, feeling the white fade as of course it had to, feeling the red fade, feeling every one of his years and sorrows manifest into his aching muscles again. He lay on his back, looking sideways at Kate, who had a hand flung over her eyes, and wondered if this had changed anything after all.

“I’m still goin’,” Sawyer said, and was surprised at his own voice—flat, soft—when he hadn’t meant to speak at all.

The look Kate gave him when she moved her hand was unreadable, and Sawyer realized as she sat up and slowly searched for her clothes that he wanted to read her, wanted to know. But he couldn’t find the words to ask, and didn’t have the lifetime it would take to learn.

Instead he pulled the bra out of her hands and guided her gently resisting body over to the airplane seats he used as a bed. He curled up around her and pulled a blanket over them, inhaling the scent of her hair—not flowery and manufactured, not here on the island, but natural and womanly, the smell of her sweat and of her sex and of salt. He couldn’t remember ever wanting to sleep with a woman after sex, didn’t do it as a rule unless he was drunk, but hell, he figured this once wouldn’t matter. No one would know, and he’d likely never find his way back here again. He’d likely never find his way anywhere but deeper into the sea.

Kate shivered once, as the sweat between their bodies cooled and dried, and then finally relaxed her body back against Sawyer’s. She had soft skin, soft like he wasn’t used to feeling against his own; Kate wasn’t the type of woman he usually found himself in bed with. Maybe that was why he wanted her to stay, just for a while, just for this night. Just so he could sleep, and dream of some other future than the one he was destined for.

Sawyer wrapped his arms around Kate and slept.

When the sun woke him the next morning she was gone, as he guessed she would be. A glance down the beach showed people already gathering around the raft. He didn’t see Kate in that number.

Sawyer dressed, then looked around his shelter one last time, and at the empty duffel bag that never did get packed. Everything he had seemed inconsequential. None of it was his anyway. He left the shelter without the duffel, wondering if Kate might come back here sometimes, sit on the airplane seats, think about him.

He walked down the beach to join the others, the only thing of value he possessed in the palm of his hand—the word Kate had spoken (lovelovelove) that he had kept in his fist. Not worth staying for, surely, but something worth returning for, maybe, if fate was kind.