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Chaos Theory

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one

In the back of her mind, Kate knows that she should be panicking, but her brain hasn’t quite caught up to that yet; her head is spinning and everything has a removed quality, like she’s outside of her own body. All she can focus on as she stumbles through the trees is how pretty and green the jungle is, alive with color and sound. Some of those sounds are screams and metallic whirring, but Kate doesn’t want to think about what that means, so she keeps walking.

She nearly trips over the body, a man sprawled on the ground among fronds of bamboo. Blood is pooling around his head and the glassy quality of his eyes tells her there is nothing she can do to help him. Kate sinks to her knees beside the man, not capable of even feeling disgusted as his blood seeps into her clothes. It’s a pity, she thinks distantly. He has a kind face.


two

Jack doesn’t know whether his parents always expected him to become a doctor or he made up that expectation for himself, but it’s around age sixteen that he realizes it isn’t what he wants for his life. It goes over better than he thought it would with his father, who only shrugs and says, It’s your decision, Jack, not mine.

And for a little while Jack thinks he might go back on that decision, because what’s he supposed to be working toward if he’s not working toward medical school? But then, one sleepy summer before he leaves for college, he picks up a friend’s camera and it feels just right in his hands. Jack doesn’t look back.

This Jack comes of age without his father’s legacy resting on his shoulders. This Jack spends his life exploring and adventuring, always ready to snap a photograph of anything, from a scene as brilliant as a sunrise to one as mundane as a parked car. This Jack has never learned to carry the weight of leadership, but that means his heart is not heavy with it, and when his father tells him you don’t have what it takes to cope with failure he simply shakes his head and says, “Then I will learn to.”

And when, one day, this Jack spies a handcuffed woman running down an alley, he pulls over his car and pushes open the side door. She gets in, unsure and wary, but something in his face tells her she can trust him, so when he asks her name, she says “I’m Kate,” without hesitating.

“Well, Kate,” he says, “Where do you want to go?” And the whole world opens up before them.


three

It’s harder to get away every time, but Kate hasn’t been on the run all these years for nothing. They really should stop sending Mars after her—he may know her better than the rest of them do, but the thing is that by now she knows him, too. How he moves, how he thinks, what he does and doesn’t do.

Kate would almost feel bad for stealing his keys and knocking him over the head with the vase, but she doesn’t, because she wouldn’t have been able to get that close if he hadn’t been baiting her. That’s the thing about Mars, the most important thing she’s learned: he will always, always take the chance to taunt her. Kate used to let that bother her, but now she only pretends to.

So, though she has no idea where she’ll be tomorrow morning, Kate knows it won’t be on Oceanic Flight 815. Mars told the hotel staff who she was, but if she walks with enough confidence and avoids their eyes she can make it out. She has before. On her way down the stairs she trips hard and almost loses everything, but a man catches her by the arm, keeping her from falling. “Thanks,” she mutters, ready to keep walking, but then she looks into his face and can’t seem to look away.

“No problem,” says the man, smiling at her. Kate smiles back automatically and part of her wants to ask his name, his job, why he’s here, who he is, but that’s ridiculous, so she shakes herself away and glances over her shoulder just once as she pushes open the hotel doors to freedom.


four

He doesn’t even know her last name but Jack feels like he owes it to Kate to protect her because she wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. He should have just gone by himself, he thinks as the plane starts to shake, shouldn’t have risked endangering anyone else, but it’s too late now. Too, too late, and “Kate,” he says, reaching for her as whatever it is moves outside, and she clutches his arm as he pulls her against him, shielding her.

The plane shakes again and then stops, an eerie silence coming over them. Jack moves for the glass, trying to see what that thing is, and Kate moves toward the shattered window, open to the air. They wait, barely breathing, and then suddenly Kate is screaming and he doesn’t get there in time and blood is all over the windows.

The other two, Charlie and the pilot, forget her eventually. The rest of the survivors didn’t even have time to register her existence. But Jack never forgets, never stops blaming himself. Her face is permanently etched in his memory, and sometimes, long after the Hatch and the Others, when the day of the crash is but a distant memory, he runs his fingers over the stitched-up scar on his back and thinks of Kate.


five

Kate has never been in this much pain in her life, and she’s been in a lot of pain. She knows it’s bad because she can’t even feel her arms anymore, as though they’re not attached to her body. Her shoulders feel like knives are sinking into them whenever she reaches out, her ribcage has iron bands wrapped around it, and the hot jungle air is choking her, but she can’t stop because Jack is somewhere behind those rocks.

It’s nearly dark when they pull her away and force water down her throat. Kate is sitting on the ground, shaking, when Charlie appears at the mouth of the cave dragging Jack’s body. “He was—when I found him he was—I couldn’t leave him,” he says, but Kate doesn’t hear any of it. She clutches the fabric of Jack’s shirt and whispers nononono into his chest, but no amount of tears can make his heart start beating again.


six

She catches him switching the packs, and something about the look in her eyes tells Jack that if he carries it for her, he breaks something between them. So he lets her take it, his heart in his throat every time she stumbles over a vine or makes a sudden movement. Even when they’re running from the monster, even when he’s shouting at Locke, the fact is there in the back of his head. Kate’s got the dynamite in her pack. Kate’s got the dynamite in her pack.

When they reach the Hatch and he watches the explosives leave her hands, the relief that sweeps over him is so powerful he loses his reason and before he can think better of it he steps forward, tilts her chin up, and kisses her. She wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him back.

“Uh, guys? Now is kind of not the time,” says Hurley, and they break apart. Kate smiles up at him, and Jack thinks that if the Hatch blows them all to hell, at least he’ll have this memory to hold onto.


seven

It’s not that she thinks Wayne doesn’t deserve to die, because he does. But Kate can’t find it in her heart to do it. Maybe it’s because, deep down, she knows what it would do to her mother. Maybe it’s because, though she can’t stand the thought of the man she hates being part of her, she knows that killing him would only make him more so. Either way, Kate can’t stay in this town anymore, so when she leaves on her motorcycle she leaves forever.

She doesn’t have a lot to live on at first, but it’s not so bad, because, for the first time in her life, Kate feels free. She wants to be where the people are, so she makes her way to Los Angeles. The city is big and full of life and not quite what she imagined it to be, but she’s here, so she figures she might as well give it a shot. She gets a job working part-time as a receptionist at St. Sebastian Hospital and begins to carve out a brand-new existence for herself.

Her memories aren’t exactly rosy, but this Kate doesn’t have a taken life to answer for. She still runs, yes, but it’s toward, not away from. She doesn’t feel like an outcast or an outlaw, so there’s nothing to tell her that she doesn’t deserve someone like Dr. Shephard when he smiles at her in the hallways.

Later, when they’re living together in a newly leased house, and she’s finally got her degree in chemistry and maybe even a baby on the way, Kate will look back at her past decisions and know that no amount of satisfaction she might have gleaned from Wayne’s death would ever have compared to this kind of happiness.


eight

When Jack is four years old, his mother leaves his father and takes him back with her to Florida, where her family is from. Jack doesn’t miss his father. He hardly thinks of him, that distant man in the white coat he barely knew. When he grows older, he will miss what could have been, the family he could have known, but when he remembers how much less happy his mother looked then, he will be glad she made the choice she did.

This Jack grows up with a parent who always makes sure to tell him she believes in him. This Jack never has to carry around the words you don’t have what it takes. When he becomes a doctor, his mother isn’t surprised. Despite the fact that Christian didn’t raise him, Jack is his father’s son in the best way possible, and Margo knows he will become a better doctor than Christian could ever be.

He does, and he is, but sometimes Jack still wonders about the other life, so close and so far away. And when, one night in the pouring rain, he walks past a woman standing in a phone booth, Jack stops and turns his head at the same moment she looks up. The feeling that sweeps over him when their eyes meet is not one he can give a name to, but it is the same feeling that he gets whenever he thinks about what could have been. It’s déjà vu of the strangest kind—the notion not that he has seen her before, but that he will see her again.

In this life, he never does.


nine

Everything in Kate is screaming at her to go when she pulls away from Jack, her heart beating out of her chest and her lips burning where they touched his, but a tiny voice whispers wait and for some reason, she decides to listen. Jack blinks down at her, confusion written all over his face, and something else, something sort of like hope. “What does this mean?” she whispers.

“What do you want it to mean?” he asks her, and then the screaming in her head gets louder because he reaches out and smooths a lock of hair away from her face with gentle care, looking at her as though she is a precious, invaluable thing. You can never be with someone like him.

But Kate is so, so tired of running, so for once in her life she plants her feet on the ground, turns the screaming into whispers, and stays still. I don’t know how to be anybody’s precious thing, she thinks, but for you, I will try.


ten

When they land on the freighter, the bomb has four minutes, not five, until it goes off. No one is sure what’s happening; Lapidus and Desmond are shouting and the chopper is making a shrill screaming sound and they’re racing time and losing, but Kate still goes after Jin, and Jack still goes after Kate. “I’m not leaving without you,” he tells her, and—

They are holding hands when the ship explodes. The last thing Kate feels is Jack’s arms wrapping around her as he tries to shield her from the blast.

It doesn’t make a difference.


eleven

He understands why she’s doing this, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Jack stands on the deck of the Searcher, not yet ready to step onto the raft where Hurley, Sayid, and Sun, holding baby Aaron, are waiting. Words bubble on his lips as he looks at Kate—you don’t have to keep running, I could come with you, I love you—but he doesn’t say any of them. “Be careful, okay?” he tells her. Kate nods, pressing her lips together as though she, too, is holding something back. He moves forward in the same moment she does, and her kiss tastes like a goodbye.

It isn’t a goodbye, not completely, but it may as well have been. From then on, Jack sees her only in stolen moments, grainy snapshots of a half-relationship. She sends him postcards he keeps locked in a dresser drawer and sometimes they have static-filled conversations on the phone. Twice she sends him an address, and they hold onto each other like they’re drowning and Jack pretends all of it—the Island, the rescue, the people they left—are nothing but whispers on the wind.

When John Locke arrives at his hospital with the words “I’ve already spoken to Kate,” Jack’s instinct is to respond with the mantra they’ve all learned by heart. Kate Austen? No, she must have died in the crash. Instead he says, “You leave Kate alone. You leave the rest of them alone. We’re not coming with you,” and tries to pretend that isn’t all he’s been thinking about since the day they got back.

It’s not until much later, after Bentham’s death, after Ben has flushed his pills down the sink, that she finds him again. She waits for him in his apartment, sitting in the dark, the first time he’s seen her in six months, and when Jack asks “Why are you here, Kate?” he hopes his words don’t sound as desperate as they taste.

“This isn’t how it was supposed to be,” she whispers.

He doesn’t ask what they said to her to get her to come. She doesn’t tell him. When she reaches for him it’s like they were never apart, and her kiss this time is a promise.


twelve

Tears stream down Kate’s face as she holds Aaron close, and the sight of them rips into Jack’s heart, as bad as the worst kind of physical pain. How he hates to see her cry. He remembers her sobs over the radio as he begged her not to come back for him, his appendectomy on the Island, both of them unable to handle his pain, the way she’d screamed his name that first time they’d seen the monster. All they’ve been through. All they’ve lost.

All they’re close to losing now.

Jack makes his choice in the same moment he realizes the choice is his to make. He crosses the room and wraps both Kate and Aaron in his arms, and Kate presses her face into his shoulder and lets him.

It isn’t easy. It never has been with them. Jack throws away the bottles and the pills, but he still hears his father’s voice sometimes. Kate takes a million pictures of Aaron, but when she stares at the results, it’s Claire’s face she sees, and the guilt threatens to overtake her. But they have each other this time, rings on their fingers vowing that they always will. When Locke comes calling, telling them they have to return to the Island, they are united in their no.

But one night, after Kate wakes up from a nightmare with Claire’s voice ringing in her ears, she goes downstairs and finds Jack standing at the counter holding an obituary for Jeremy Bentham. He looks up at her and calmly says, “We have to go back, Kate.”

“I know,” she whispers.

When they board Ajira Flight 316, they are hand in hand.


thirteen

“Let the Island sink, Jack.”

“Kate, I can’t,” he says, but he isn’t sure. The world swims before him as blood soaks his shirt, and all the choices that have led him to this point seem suddenly hazy, like he’s viewing them from underwater. The only thing in focus is Kate, and he holds onto the image of her like a lifeline. “Yes, you can,” she’s telling him. “I don’t care what Jacob told you about life and death, or good and evil, or the reason we’re here. It doesn’t have to be you.”

Jack looks at her, looks into those green eyes he knows so well, and he wants to believe her. He wants to believe that it doesn’t have to be him, that it hasn’t always been him. He feels as though he’s being torn in two—the purpose of his life on one side, and the love of it on the other, and what kind of choice is that?

“I can’t leave without you, not again,” says Kate, and she needs him to understand, because they have not gone through all of this for nothing. “Please, Jack. You don’t have to be the one to save everyone.”

You don't want to be a hero. You don't want to try and save everyone. Because when you fail...you just don't have what it takes. But his father never knew what it was to fail, Jack thinks, because he never learned from it. If he, Jack, has learned anything from all of this, it’s that he still doesn’t know how to let go. But as he looks at Kate, he realizes he wants to.

“Are you with me?” says Kate, her turn to ask the question. She holds out her hand to him.

This time, in this life, he takes it.


fourteen

There are many paths that lead here.

Ben Linus dies before their plane crashes, and the Others keep their distance. When Danielle finds Henry Gale caught in her net, she doesn’t hesitate to shoot him. Charles Widmore decides he doesn’t want to waste more of his life on the Island. The DHARMA Initiative never finds it, and there is no Incident.

There are many paths that lead here. If the Hatch is there they’re almost always the reason it implodes, but sometimes they never find it and it’s Desmond, of his own accord, who stops pressing the button and has to turn the fail-safe key. If the Others’ submarine is there, Locke usually destroys it, but sometimes he doesn’t and Jack, standing on the dock, realizes it doesn’t matter: he cannot leave his people behind.

There are many paths that lead here. Their plane always crashes, but the Island on which they land is forever changing. The people on it are forever changing. Whether they stay or whether they go, who escapes and who returns, who lives and who dies—that changes every time.

There are many paths that lead here but as Kate stands at the edge of the sea, listening to the sounds of voices around the crackling fire, she watches Jack lift their son above the waves and she can’t imagine choosing any other.


fifteen

Oceanic Flight 815 lands safely in Los Angeles.

Jack Shephard gets off the plane and goes to find his father’s body. The airline has lost it, but he doesn’t know that yet. The man he talks to while waiting in customs has changed his life, but he doesn’t know that yet, either.

Katherine Austen gets off the plane in handcuffs. She’ll find a way to get out of them and run soon enough, but she doesn’t know that yet. The woman she meets in her escape will be the reason she stops running, but she doesn’t know that yet, either.

When their eyes meet for a half-second, neither of them will know where they have seen the other before. They will have no memory of a plane crash or an Island. They will not recall black thread on the beach or guava seeds for a garden, and they will not recognize the words I will come back here for you or I have always been with you. But they will recognize each other.

They will not meet again until a late-night concert, after only a few days, after an entire lifetime. Jack will look at her and say, “I’m sorry, where do I remember you from?”

“Oceanic 815, from Sydney,” she will say. “I bumped into you coming out of the bathroom, and I stole your pen.”

“And that’s how I know you?”

“No,” Kate will say, and she will smile at him with a smile that every version of him loves on every version of her, and Jack will smile back without quite knowing why.

“That’s not how you know me.”