stefanie_bean: (hugo claire blue)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 16: Princess in a Tower
Pair: Hurley/Claire
Characters: Hugo Reyes, Claire Littleton, Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, ensemble
Genre: Slow-build Romance
Length: 3935 words
Rating: M
Notes: WIP, canon-divergent

After the Oceanic 815 crash, Jack told Hurley to stay with Claire. Hurley does just that, and they fall in love. In this "LOST in three seasons," people talk to each other more, and most of them actually get to live.

Chapter 16: Princess in a Tower

Claire stands in the dawn-streaked sea. Waves play around her ankles, and the rhythmic ocean pulls the sand from beneath her feet. She touches her mouth, still sensitive from Hurley's bearded morning kisses. The chafed sensation delights her, as if she carries a little of him on her lips.

Sayid, Sawyer and Rousseau crouch around a fire, their rifles close by. They take turns dipping from the cooking pot, and the sight of gloppy, purplish porridge turns Claire's stomach.

Jack's chatting with Kate over by the new medical tent. His arm rests on a tent-pole and Kate half-nestles beneath. They both take their time, ignoring Sayid's pointed looks.

Jack, who may be her brother. (Is, you know it's true, is.) How the hell is she going to bring this up with him?

Shannon practices dance moves, dipping her lithe body in swan-like gestures, as if Love herself had risen from the sea to play on the shore. Sayid catches sight of her and breaks into a warm smile. He turns serious at once, as if pregnant with important news and ready to deliver.

A wave of nausea sends Claire to her knees, so that she loses her meager breakfast. Afterward, she crouches in the water, rocking and ill. She hasn't been sick like this since early pregnancy.

Kate's at Claire's side, holding back her hair. “Honey, what's wrong?”

“Everything came up.”

“Let's go see Jack.”

Jack ushers Claire inside the medical tent. “We're okay here, Kate. Do me a favor, tell Sayid I'll be along shortly.”

Now that Claire's stomach is empty, the queasy butterflies seem to have flown away. She perches on the metal cot as Jack takes her pulse, pulls her lower eyelids down, makes approving noises. He says, “You're drinking enough? Getting enough protein?”

She nods. “What's wrong, do you think?”

His reassuring smile lifts her mood at once. No wonder Kate has fallen for him like a brick dropped from a ten-story building. “Nothing that I can tell. You're going to have your baby very soon, Claire. These symptoms are your body getting ready.”

It gives her new confidence. “Jack? There's, um, something else.”

He's all ears, as if she were the only person in the world. “Shoot.”

In the quiet tent, Claire's resolution quails. “You're busy. They're waiting for you.”

“You're my patient. They can wait.”

Her voice sticks in her throat. “Yesterday, in the garden, some of us got to talking about babies and stuff. Whether or not it was safe to...” She kicks herself inside for acting like a Year Six running into sex ed for the first time. “You know. Make love.”

Jack's smile crinkles the edges of his deep brown eyes. “If I were an OB/Gyn, I'd recommend it, as long as you're willing and interested. And have a considerate partner, which is definitely the case here, I'd say. Just take it slow and easy. Listen to your body.” Jack starts to get up, as if suddenly feeling the pressure of the waiting group. “Now, if that's it—“

If she doesn't seize this moment, she never will. “Your father's name is Christian, right? Christian Shephard?”

The color leaches from his face. His eyes fade to the dull brown of a bird lying dead on the sidewalk. “Yes. Why?”

“Your mum, she's Margo Shephard?”

“Yes, she is. Claire, what's this about?”

Why should mention of his parents hurt him so? It's too late to stop, however. “I know this sounds crazy, but I think we, um, share a dad. Because 'Christian Shepard' is named on my birth registration. He's an American from Los Angeles, married. Look, I get it if you didn't know about Mum and me, that no one told you.” She's reeling now, shaking because he is, too.

“Claire, there are a lot of people in Los Angeles named Christian Shephard.”

“No doubt,” she says stiffly. “But he came to my house. In Sydney.”

Jack turns ashen. “In Sydney? When?”

She has to count back, mentally. “The Sunday right before the flight. He stomped about, shouting. My aunt finally threw him out.”

Jack's words sound like they're dragged out with hooks. “You didn't speak to him?”

“I was afraid to, Jack. He was thoroughly pissed.”

“Dad always had a temper.”

“No, I mean 'pissed,' as in drunk. He could scarcely stand.”

Jack believes her, it's clear. He takes a long swig from an Oceanic bottle, as if trying to wash the gravel from his throat, the deadness from his expression. “That sounds like him.”

But why should Jack sound so sad? Is she some kind of massive let-down?

As Jack lifts his head, his eyes are wet. “I was an only child. Or thought I was.”

“Me, too.”

He takes her hands in his, as tremors travel all the way up his arms. “I never thought, Claire. I never knew.”

She waves her hand over her belly, trying to recover some stability in a world turned topsy-turvy. “I wouldn't blame you for being disappointed.”

“Disappointed? Oh God, no.” At least he's lost that raspy, strangled voice. He pulls her to her feet and looks her full in the face. “This is a lot to process. It does cause a medical ethics dilemma, too.”

“A what?” Oh, wait, was that was some doctor joke?

The life has returned to his eyes. “There are rules against treating family members, even though doctors do it all the time.”

“Do they make exceptions for being stranded on a remote Island?”

“I can't imagine an ethics board that would fault me for it.” The laugh in his voice, the crinkle in his expression, show that the old Jack is is back. He studies her face as if hunting for a resemblance, and finds it. “You have his eyes.”

“Thanks, Jack.”

He surprises her with a quick buss on the cheek. “Claire, I hate to go, but Sayid—“

“It's fine. I'm fine.”

Gravity makes his voice deep and rich. “Yes, you are. And you're going to be.”

* * * * * * * *

As soon as Claire's blonde head pops out of the medical tent, Hurley enfolds her, looks her up and down, pats her hair, strokes her face. “Are you okay?”

“Jack says I'm right as rain. Just going to have a baby soon. As if no one could tell.”

The teasing lilt in her voice makes his heart soar. He's about to bring her to Sayid's fire, when Shannon sidles up. “Hey, Claire. Sun's got some tea ready for you.”

Jane, Sun, and a few other women have massed by Kathy and Shana's tent for a convo of their own. Shannon laces her arm in Claire's, and tugs her along. “Come on, Jane's just gotten started. You really want to hear this.”

Claire's eyes are warm, her voice full of promise. “Later.”

Jack has already planted himself next to Kate, and Sayid is clearly glad to begin. “Danielle, would you open your map?” The large drawing is freshly-marked with blue pencil squiggles. “On the first day, Danielle agreed to provision us with rifles from her matériels cache.”

Jack doesn't look pleased at this.

“Not all of us,” Sawyer points out. “Hippie-dippy Jane didn't want one.”

Good for her, Hurley thinks.

Sayid ignores the interruption. “Jack, we thought you might want to have Jane's. It's in my tent.”

“What about me?” Kate sounds indignant, even hurt. “I've known my way around long guns since I was ten.”

“Ooh, pree-co-cious,” Sawyer quips.

Danielle and Kate both glare icicles at him. “Your empty sidearm,” Danielle says to Kate. “I believe I have some cartridges for it.”

“Thanks, Danielle.” Kate can't resist sending Sawyer a small, triumphant smirk.

Sayid clears his throat for attention. “We headed northwest, following the large river which bisects the Island. That evening we came to the outskirts of a broad valley, where we made camp.”

“Sounds uneventful so far,” Jack says.

“Until Sheena here decided she wanted to go mountain-climbing,” Sawyer grumbles.

Sayid says, “We scouted the easiest approach to the western cliffs we could find—“

“Easy, he says. Easy for you,” says Sawyer.

Kate frowns. “Maybe if you did a little more work around camp you wouldn't get winded so easily.”

Danielle fights down a chuckle. “We came to a plateau at the cliff-top, a splendid view which I had never seen.”

“I thought you'd been all over this Island,” says Jack.

“There are many places I have not wished to visit alone.”

“What about the, you know, smoke thing?” Hurley asks. “The monster. Did it rip up any trees, chase you around?”

“Never,” Sayid said. “More than once I began to wonder if it even existed at all.”

“But?” Hurley says.

“Hold onto your socks, Gordo, if you can reach 'em,” Sawyer says. “He'll get to that part.”

“Oh my God, Sawyer,” Kate says. “Do you think for just one minute you could—“

“Well, I can tell somebody missed me while I was gone.”

Danielle gives a polite cough. “We spent the day exploring the cliff-tops, and I made some adjustments to my map. This spot marked “l'endroit les plus dangereux,” where the disasters struck my team—”

“Naturally, that's where we went,” Sawyer says.

“Even a dangerous place is navigable when traveled in company.”

Sayid picks up the thread. “The jungle around the cliffs grew thicker, almost impenetrable. While we didn't encounter the creature, the place was still unsettling. Every skitter, every rustle seemed to presage an ambush. Even at mid-day, the canopy was so thick that we wished for torches.”

The hairs on Hurley's forearms start to prickle, as if he were hearing a ghost story.

Sayid's voice drops lower, and everyone leans in. “It was there that we found the man.”

“The man?” Kate sounds incredulous. “What man?”

“A real wild one,” Sawyer says. “Looked like he'd been out in the jungle for months. Unshaven, hair all shaggy, filthy and stinkin' like a polecat. Funny thing about his clothes, they were nice ones. Torn to rags, though. First thing we asked him, was he on the plane?”

Sayid says, “He laughed like a man who had lost his reason. Sometimes, in my country, men left alone in the desert too long would see things, hallucinate entire cities, converse with strange beings.” A light smile plays over his serious features. “Perhaps such delirium gave rise to legends of the al-jinn.”

In a solemn tone Danielle says, “On this Island, legends come to life.”

A strange shiver of half fear, half excitement winds through Hurley. No one else reacts, especially not Jack, who seems impatient to come to the point. “So, if he wasn't on the plane, then who was he?”

“He told an extraordinary story,” Sayid says. “He said his name was Goodwin, Goodwin Stanhope, and he stated that he had quit his job in the most dramatic way possible.”

“Quit his job?” Hurley says. “There are people here with jobs?”

“Better than that,” Sayid answers. “He claimed to work for a man named Ben, Benjamin Linus to be precise.”

“That Benjamin Linus,” Danielle growls.

Sayid goes on, “On the day our plane crashed, this Benjamin person sent Ethan to spy on us. Goodwin was dispatched to the other group of survivors.”

“Oh, my God,” says Kate. “There are more of us.”

“That's right, Kate,” Sayid says. “Others from the plane have survived. Anyway, Goodwin crossed the Island to their crash site and surveyed them from the jungle, but didn't make contact. Instead, he turned tail and ran.”

“Why the hell would he do that?” Jack says with a frown. “This whole story sounds insane—”

“Ben ain't the nicest boss, Doc,” Sawyer puts in. “Seems like ol' Goodwin got sent on a suicide mission. Somethin' about how he and Ben was in love with the same woman, and it was a race to who was gonna kill Goodwin first, Ben or Goodwin's wife. Matter of fact, Goodwin thought maybe his wife might of put Ben up to it. She was Ben's therapist, seems like.”

Kate looks like she's done with this whole crazy story. “So they have therapists. Right.”

“Brian knew it was too good to be true that this Island would be, you know, deserted,” Hurley remarks.

Sayid continues, “Apparently Ben wanted him dead for loving this woman. Goodwin kept repeating how beautiful she was, golden-haired and blue-eyed, a Rapunzel locked in a tower, and Ben the witch keeping her prisoner.”

“Only Goodwin was a piss-poor prince,” Sawyer remarks.

Witches and towers aside, to Hurley something clearly stinks. “If this Goodwin dude loved this woman so much—“

“Juliet. He said her name was Juliet.” The way Sawyer says it makes it sound like music. It's clear that the story has Sawyer enraptured.

“But if he loved her so much,” Hurley persists, “why didn't he help her? Why'd he run away?”

“No shit, Santiago, since there are way easier ways to break up with a woman. Or two, as in his case.”

“You would know,” Danielle says with a small, humorless smile.

Sayid clearly wants to proceed. “Goodwin's marital problems aside, it seems that Ben tasked him to pick suitable candidates for 'recruitment,' as he put it, although he clearly meant kidnapping.”

The ugly word drapes the group like a shroud. Suddenly anxious, Hurley darts a glance over to Claire, huddled deep in conversation with Shannon and Sun.

“Goodwin concluded that the tail section survivors looked like a tough lot, and that neither of these women were worth dying for, even though one had been his mistress for three years. Instead, he headed northwest, to the Temple—“

Sawyer cuts Sayid off. “To save his own hide. Seems the Temple's a no-go zone. Even this Ben won't show his face there, so Goodwin figured he'd be safe. Just one problem, though.”

'What problem?” Jack snaps.

“Seems this Temple's like Project Mayhem in Fight Club. You got to convince 'em you're bad-ass enough to get in, and Goodwin hadn't managed that yet. It took him three days to get to the Temple from where the tail section crashed. When he got there, the monks or whatever they were just laughed at him. Told him he had to endure three trials, wouldn't tell him what they were. Just not to come back till he survived them. He'd been out in the jungle ever since.”

“I believe he had already withstood two, from his account,” Danielle says. “He claimed to have encountered the smoke creature twice, and lived.”

“Unlike the pilot of our plane,” Kate puts in. “We know that thing can kill you if it wants to.”

“Did you ask this dude what that smoke thing was?” Hurley's practically jumping out of his skin with impatience. This is worse than Twenty Questions, and he sucks at Twenty Questions.

“Multiple times, Hurley,” Sayid says. “He traveled with us for two days, becoming more frenzied, breaking into fragments of song, telling private jokes to himself. I'm afraid at one point Danielle became a bit rough with him.”

Hurley remembers how “rough” Danielle had gotten with Ethan.

“He tried my patience with his babble of Latin and Hebrew, calling the creature alternately Azazael, or 'God's poison.'”

“Iblis,” Sayid muses. “The foremost jinni, made of dark fire.”

Hurley has seen the Harry Potter movies, and that “he who must not be named” stuff always seemed stupid. Not any more.

“No, Hurley, he did not inform us,” says Sayid. “What he did convey was that Ben holds this woman Juliet and Danielle's child in the same place.”

Hurley tries to keep his voice level, but fails. “Dude, is it lost on everybody how crappy it was to leave this Juliet stuck wherever she is?”

“We know where she is,” Sayid says, matter-of fact. “In a settlement in the central northeast region of the Island called The Barracks. It was extraordinary, Goodwin's compulsion to tell the truth. He had the air of a man who has given up on his own life. Loyalty, honor, nothing mattered to him any longer.”

After this sinks in, Danielle says, “There is one thing I do not understand.”

“Only one?” Jack quips. “Because I understand virtually none of this.”

“Ben did not even change my daughter's name. Why would he use the name I gave her? Why would he call her 'Alex?'”

Kate's soft answer sends a chill up Hurley's spine. “Maybe, Danielle, he knew that she really wasn't his. That someday he'd have to give her back.”

“Perhaps,” Sayid agrees. “But let's not digress. When we reached the gates of the Temple, we let Goodwin go, as decided. Two men emerged, and although we believed ourselves to be hidden, they looked directly at us as if we were out in the open.”

“Hard cases, too,” Sawyer adds. “Made the ruffians in the Florida state pen look like Boy Scouts.”

“So you were in prison.” Kate says it as if that explains a lot.

“Story for later. As it was, they talked to this clown for a few, then let him in. Guess he got what he wanted after all.”

“I wonder what his third trial was,” Kate says.

“We were,” Danielle answers. “He survived us.”

“No, he survived you, Xena,” Sawyer says.

Danielle just smiles.

* * * * * * * *

The group breaks up to help themselves to leftovers. Hurley's stomach rumbles, but Jack pulls him aside. “What do you think?”

“It sounds crazy...” As soon as Hurley says it, he knows it's anything but.

“Hurley, did you ever read Heart of Darkness?

“Oh, man, one of my favorite Classic Comics.” In Hurley's mind, Ben looms like a six and half foot tall Colonel Kurtz, huge and bald, voice like a Mack truck engine.

Jack must imagine the same. “There's some kind of warlord here, a dangerous one, and while he's left us alone so far, I don't know how long that's going to last.” Suddenly Jack looks old and tired. He starts to walk away from the group, so Hurley follows him to the medical tent.

Hurley could swear that Jack's about to cry, as if Colonel Kurtz loose on the Island wasn't bad enough. “Dude, what's wrong?”

“I've got to speak to Claire, but I can't bring myself to.”

Speak to Claire about what? Oh, wait, earlier this morning she and Jack were in the medical tent like forever. “Is something wrong with Claire?”

“She's fine, Hurley. Everything with the baby is fine. But I can't—“ Jack looks away as he cuts off his sentence. “I just found out today that she and I are related. We're half-siblings.”

That's all? That's what has Jack twisted up in knots? Hurley almost wants to laugh with relief, but Jack's solemnity stops him. “Dude, that's awesome. Kind of outta left field, but still awesome.”

“Yes, Hurley, it is. Claire's a great girl. I couldn't ask for a better sister. What I can't bring myself to tell her is that her father... that our father... is dead.”

Jack's not the touchy sort, but that doesn't stop Hurley. He pulls Jack to his chest, and the tiny tremors which move up and down Jack's body show that he's lost the battle with tears. Hurley was so mad at his own dad, and not just the night before he flew to Australia. Now his dad probably thinks he's dead, and all his dad has to remember him by are shouts and ugly words.

It brings tears to Hurley's eyes, too.

When Jack breaks the hug, Hurley says, “Dude, I'm sorry. I hated my dad—“


“But if my dad died, that would mega-suck. So maybe I don't hate him as much as I thought.”

Jack falls into a silent sea of guilt, recriminations, lost opportunities, everything lost. He looks so alone, and Hurley knows loneliness.

Maybe it doesn't have to be that way. “Jack? Listen, I got your back. We'll tell Claire together.”

* * * * * * * *

Not until nightfall does Claire hear the news of her father's death. Jack's earlier, inexplicable sadness makes perfect sense now. She hates the old-fashioned-book notion you're only orphaned if your dad dies, as if mums don't even exist. Still, she feels Jack's loss for the man who gave them life, only to abandon them both.

The worst part was Jack fighting back sobs because he couldn't even find their father's body.

In their tent, in their bed, Hurley tries to tell her how sorry he is about her dad, how he's here for her. She stops his mouth with a kiss so deep that her head spins with desire. She tosses her clothes right and left, not caring where they land. It thrills her to the core how wide his eyes are, how wet his mouth, how when she lifts his hands to her breasts, he grasps hard and won't let go.

She pulls his hair aside, a little rougher than necessary, and whispers into his ear, “I want you. Right here. Right now.”

Under her hands his flesh shudders, all that flesh, as if he's fighting with himself in one last stand. “You're sure—“

“Yes.” Yes yes yes she says inside, never more certain of anything. Her father lay on top of her mother and gave Claire life. Now her father is dead, but she, Claire, is so alive. She plunges her face into Hurley's thick neck, fills her mouth with flesh. Inhaling his salty almond scent, she slips her hands under his arms to squeeze great handfuls of him.

He falls to her side, panting.

She's glad she kept up with dance practice through her sixth month. Even so, she has to twist this way, then that. He has no clue how to make the two of them connect, how to navigate around his own massive body and her pregnant belly. It's all right, though, because each slipping-in and sliding-out inflames him more, and her too.

He pushes, she slips, they miss one way, then the next, but all those pregnancy-loosened joints are good for something, and with a final twist of her hips he slides inside her. It's like getting pieced to the soul. From behind he moans her name, says that he loves her, until his words fade to gasps and tiny cries.

She doesn't expect to come, twisted at that odd angle. He moves inside her dark and heavy as earth itself, slow as a whale passing through the deep, until he hits something inside her just right.

The swift surge of pleasure takes her by wild and chaotic surprise. Before she knows it, she's dying in Hurley's arms, covered by his heavy thighs, pressed against him like a body being lowered into soft, pleasure-soaked ground.

He slips wetly out of her. When she flips over, their bellies collide as they did on their first night on this Island. She plasters herself to him heart to heart and shoves his hands onto her pregnant stomach. “This makes him yours, you know. He's both of ours now.”

The sauna-like tent is full of ocean-and-sweat smells as Hurley clings to her. “Both of ours,” he echoes. “For each other. Like us.”

“For always?”

“For always.”

Believing him feels better than anything in the world. As she drifts down into the red dark, she scarcely understands who or what she is anymore. Whatever she becomes, whatever becomes of her, this is the last night on earth of the Claire she knew, the girl she was.


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