stefanie_bean: (hugo claire blue)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 18: Painted Faces and Long Hair
Pairs: Hurley/Claire, Jack/Kate, Sayid/Shannon
Characters: Hugo Reyes, Claire Littleton, Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, ensemble
Genre: Slow-build Romance
Length: 4196 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 18: Painted Faces and Long Hair

Morning buzz fills the beach camp as people gather around the smoking pit filled with boar meat. Locke has dug the baked pig out of the imu, and he and Hurley hand out portions one after another.

Claire nestles in her first-class seat with an Oceanic water bottle in one hand, the baby on her lap. He's squirming, awake, and when she changes his diaper, she lets him pee into the sand. He smells milky and almost sweet, staring at something over her shoulder with unfocused blue eyes.

Kate brings her some slices of charred boar liver, its pink insides oozing a little blood, and neither of them speak until they're licking their fingers. “So I guess you heard,” Kate says.

“Sounds like they found one of Danielle's military stations.”

“Behind a door, hidden by vines. They banged on it until someone opened up.”

“That new man over there, I take it.”

“Right, Desmond. After Boone and Charlie lured him out, Locke got the drop on him.”

“Kind of aggro, wouldn't you say?” Only now does it dawn on Claire that someone's missing. “Where's Charlie, by the way?”

“Still holed up in that bunker, and I don't blame him. I hear they have a shower.”

Each knows what the other is thinking. Sun has helped Claire sponge off after the birth, as well as giving the baby an impromptu bath in a cooking pot, but nothing comes close to a cascade of hot water. “I'm going up there with Jack, to check things out,” says Kate.

Across the camp, Jack stands deep in conversation with Locke, whose painted face glimmers in the morning sunlight. Black and white tiger stripes wrap around his hairless head, and dark eye-rings make his expression unreadable.

“What's with the make-up?” Claire asks.

Kate rolls her eyes. “Some kind of boy-bonding thing.”

“Team colors, I suppose.”

“I can tell that Jack's worried.” Kate's words seem to sum up everything. Boone has evicted Danielle from the tent he and Shannon used to share, and he now squats before it with a rifle slung over his shoulder, his long hair blowing in the morning breeze. Two white stripes are scrawled across his cheekbones, and another drapes down his nose, lifeguard-style. He gazes out over the beach as if a bad smell rises from it.

“All these guns. I'm worried, too.”

Kate shrugs, as if the weapons are a trifle. “Locke didn't want anyone to know about the bunker at first.”

“Why all the secrecy?”

“I don't know. We already knew this Island was inhabited, and from what Danielle said, there's some kind of military angle.”

They fall silent when Jack, Rose, and Hurley approach. Hurley's big shadow blocks out most of the morning sun, and worry hangs over him like a cloud. “How's the little guy doing?” he says to Claire.

The baby sleeps, a pink pearl nestled in an oyster-white blanket. “Out like a light.”

Hurley's wearing a back-pack, which means he's going on this trek, too. A small hollow opens inside Claire, not quite fear, but if fed and watered by circumstance could grow into it.

“Awesome,” Hurley says, but the smile in his voice doesn't reach his somber face.

“What a precious angel,” says Rose. “May I?”

Baby secure in Rose's arms, Jack takes Claire's pulse. “How's the bleeding?”

“Lighter than a period, I'd say.”

Jack's doctor-poker-face cracks. “You sure?”

A little laugh pops out of Claire before she can stifle it. “I think I'd know.”

Scratching his head, Jack says, “This is highly unusual for postpartum.”

“I'm not surprised at all,” says Rose. A whole long story is written on her face, even if she's keeping it to herself at the moment. “Hurley, don't just stand there gaping, give the girl a good-bye kiss.”

He draws Claire into his arms and holds her there as if he never wants to let go, but when Jack gives a small impatient cough, he does.

“Come on, honey,” Rose says to Claire as the group departs. “Faith's a whiz with that sewing kit. She whipped up a little something for you, to make things easier with the baby.”

Even so, Claire can't take her eyes off Hurley's wide, sad back, as he brings up the rear after Jack, Kate, Locke and Sayid, with Desmond in the middle. She watches his slumped shoulders and downcast head until he disappears into the jungle gloom.


* * * * * * * *


The path to the Swan Station isn't as well-worn as the one to the caves. Hurley stumbles over roots in his struggle to keep up, and twisty vines keep tangling themselves in his hair. The troop plunges through the forest in silence behind Locke, who slashes branches aside with a machete.

The Swan door stands bare, all its concealing vines chopped away. Vegetation lies brown and dried on the jungle floor, and Locke kicks it carelessly aside. He raps out a code on the metal door, one too complex for Hurley to follow. Everyone waits in silence as birds wheel overhead, cawing in outrage.

The intolerable sense of bad mojo doesn't seem to afflict anyone else besides Hurley. Desmond shuffles to and fro, still bearing the look of a prisoner even though no one's holding a gun on him.

Finally the door swings open. “Ding, dong, Avon calling,” Charlie says through an impish grin. Unlike Locke and Boone, he's wiped off most of his war-paint. “Was wondering when you blokes were going to show.”

Before anyone has a chance to say, “Hey, how you doing?” Charlie pushes past them. “Ah, fresh air, sunshine, and lovely sand fleas, here I come. It's all yours.” He practically scampers off into the bush, as if being let out of a cage.

“That's not a ringing endorsement,” Hurley mutters, but no one pays attention to him. As they go single-file down a steep ramp, he can't shake the creeping sensation of someone, or something padding up behind them on stealthy Gollum feet.

Locke leads them down a damp-smelling stairwell, to the tune of a mechanical throb like a low-pitched motor, while the smell of unwashed socks wafts upward. Wherever they're going isn't too well-ventilated. Light bulbs flicker behind small wire cages, and eventually the dirty-sock smell fades under the wheeze of a struggling air conditioner.

What the hell, an airlock door? These Dharma dudes must have been expecting a long underground stay, just like in Blast From the Past. Hurley musings end, though, when an incredible sight opens up before him. He's staring at the den he always wanted, complete with ping pong table, minus the little detail of no windows and that faintly moldy smell.

Dishes lie scattered amid open boxes of cereal and canned food. Jack, Sayid, and Kate fan out, incredulous expressions on their faces. Desmond darts to a cabinet and pulls out a white-labeled bottle of wine, unscrews it, and drinks like he's in the middle of the Sahara.

Sayid doesn't mince words with Locke. "Are there any radios here?"

“None that I know of.”

Desmond wipes his mouth and says, “Brother, you think if there was a radio, I'd have stayed in this hole for three years?”

Kate opens the refrigerator and peers inside. “Jack, you might want to take a look at this.”

Jack picks up a small bottle of serum and reads aloud, “RX-1 GND. This looks like a lot number, CR 4-81516-23 42.”

Maybe it's the smell of garbage and unwashed clothes which suddenly nauseates Hurley, or maybe he actually heard Jack correctly. “What? What was that?”

Jack gives Hurley a puzzled glance, then repeats the sequence. “That mean anything to you, Desmond?”

"It's a vaccine against infection." Desmond sounds sullen, defeated, and already a little drunk.

"There is no infection,” Sayid snaps. “Danielle has spouted the same nonsense. No one has been sick since we arrived, even with drinking unboiled water, and using primitive sanitation."

“Aye, mate, I found that out the hard way, didn't I? Injected myself with that stuff every nine days for three years, then decided it wasn't worth it on the day when—“ He stops abruptly and takes another pull from the wine bottle.

Merlot, it looks like. Hurley's almost tempted to wrest the bottle from Desmond and guzzle the rest himself.

“Do you want to know what I think, Desmond?” Sayid says. “Jack can bear me out, or dismiss it out of hand. I think this was a drug for eliciting compliance. Your fellow denizen, the man whom you say left. Did he stop taking his injections beforehand?”

Desmond gives a mute, dispirited nod.

Encouraged, Sayid goes on. “And I suppose you did the same, after his disappearance. How did you feel, by the way?”

“Like I was wondering what the hell I'd been doing down here all this time. It was like a fog lifted, brother.”

Point made, Sayid opens a cabinet. “If you will excuse me, Desmond, I'm afraid I have to go through your things.” Without waiting for an answer, he opens drawers, taps on walls, unscrews light bulbs.

“What do you think he's looking for?” Kate asks Hurley.

They don't have long to wonder. “What's this?” Sayid barks, all the silk in his voice vanished. Behind a ceiling light cover there blinks the red light of a closed-circuit camera, positioned to take in most of the living area.

“What the hell?” Kate says.

With nimble fingers, Sayid locates the camera's power cord and slices it with his knife. “That should take care of the video and audio both.” With the fluid power of a cat on the prowl, he sheathes his blade and advances on Desmond. Hurley has never seen Sayid really angry, and he doesn't want to.

“Sayid, take it easy—“ Jack begins, but Sayid knocks the bottle out of Desmond's hand, and it smashes to the floor. He throttles Desmond in a choke hold until Jack, Hurley, and Kate pull him off.

Desmond gasps for breath. “I swear, brother, I didn't know that was there.”

Jack says, “Who's watching on the other end?”

“No bloody idea,” Desmond mutters, rubbing his throat.

Hurley says, “What are they gonna do, now that they know we know they're watching?”

“Sayid, Hurley has a point,” says Jack.

“I for one am tired of waiting for these Others to make the next move. We have thrown down the gauntlet. Let's see if they pick it up.”

Whatever a gauntlet is, the Others are likely to break heads with it, and Hurley doesn't want his to be the first. Amid the broken glass, wine spreads like blood across the concrete floor. Hurley picks up a broom and begins to sweep.

“I'll help you, brother,” Desmond says.

Sayid has other ideas. He grabs Desmond's arm, his grip hard as his voice. “Hurley can get that. You and I are going to take a little walk through the rest of this facility, and we're going to find all the cameras. Perhaps you have some wire clippers, so I don't dull the edge of my knife.”

As Desmond fishes a pair out of a drawer, Kate says in panic, “Where's Locke?”

He's slipped off and is nowhere to be seen. Jack says, “Okay, Sayid, take Hurley and Desmond and look for cameras. Kate, you and I are going to—“

A shrill buzz splits the air with a loud shriek, interrupting Jack. The noise is impossible to ignore, and everyone except Desmond looks about wildly for the source. “Through that door,” Desmond says in a bored voice.

Hurley sets down the broom and follows everyone into the next room. On a freakiness level of one to ten, Desmond's basement den was maybe a five, but this one's a solid nine. Someone cut the Epcot Center geodesic dome in half and filled it with ancient space-age computers. In the background, reel-to-reel tape drives whirr and lights blink.

Locke sits at an Army surplus desk in front of an antique monitor, oblivious to the alarm, and types away with two fingers, struggling to enter the code taped to the monitor screen. When he makes a mistake he swears a little, then gets it right. The alarm stops, and a mechanical counter above his head flutters to the number 108.

“Sorry,” Locke says, looking up. “Duty called.”

Kate wails in pure frustration, “Does anyone have the slightest idea what's going on here?”

Even if Hurley knew, he couldn't answer her, transfixed as he is by the sequence of numbers which Locke has just typed in.

Locke mistakes Hurley's fixation for interest. “I'll sign you up for a shift, Hugo.”

That's the last thing Hurley wants. War Games sucked as a movie and he has no desire to enact it in real life. Maybe he can find his way back to the beach camp, maybe not, but he's sure as hell not staying here. Backing up, he collides with a metal tray full of tapes, and a few clatter to the floor.

Sayid pulls him into the living area, the silk back in his voice. “Hurley, I need you to help me sort through this chaos. Please, calm down.”

“Those numbers... they're the same ones I used. That Danielle heard. Dude, what kind of coincidence is that?”

“Listen to me, Hurley. This sequence was obviously some kind of United States military code. Your friend heard them broadcast throughout the South Pacific. Now we find them in this station.”

Even through his panic, Hurley admits to himself that Sayid's got a knack for this calming people down business, maybe even as good as Nurse Lazenby from the hospital.

Sayid goes on, “Sometimes technical people use pi, or phi, or a Fibonacci series for their passwords, foolish as that may be. Whatever sequence these numbers represent, my guess is that those who made the broadcast also built this place, and used them for a pass code. Uncreative, but not surprising.”

Hurley's pounding heart starts to slow. “Sayid, why did that camera freak you out so bad?”

At first Sayid might stonewall it, but then changes his mind. “You know what I did in Iraq, during the war. What you don't know was that it was my idea to videotape the interrogation sessions, play them back, learn from them. My brother was my CO, and it earned us both a promotion. Whoever's watching us is probably doing the same.”

Injustice, anger, helplessness all wash over Hurley at once. “Let's go find 'em, dude.”


* * * * * * * *


The weary morning drags into afternoon. Sayid disables four more cameras, including one trained on the Swan Station door, and one in the geodesic computer room, where it watches whoever sits at the computer terminal.

Afterward, Hurley digs around in his backpack for some dried squid. When Desmond stares at him he says, “What? It's way past lunch. You want some?”

“You break into my house, I suppose I can feed you,” Desmond replies. From a cupboard he pulls crackers, a can labeled “Aerosolized Cheese Product,” and something called “Dharma Shaped Spiced Pork,” all in the same white wrappers. “That was the last of the Merlot. How about some port?”

“You call this your house?” Jack says, incredulous. “I thought you said you were held prisoner here.”

“It's all yours, brother. With your leave, I'll just pack my kit and go find my—“

Desmond doesn't get to finish, because Sayid bursts into the room. “Jack, with the right equipment, I think I could make a simple timer-based electronic circuit to enter this code. The computer keyboard input probably isn't necessary at all.”

“I wouldn't mess with it, brother,” says Desmond.

Sayid doesn't reply. The look of contempt which he sends Desmond says it all.

“Why wasn't it designed that way in the first place?” Jack asks.

Locke stops slicing the Dharma spam and sighs like a parent frustrated with stubborn children. Hurley wishes he would wipe the greasepaint off his face, because while it was bad out in the sun, it's ghastly under the harsh fluorescent lights. “Don't you see, Sayid?” Locke says. “We have to be the ones pushing this button, not some soulless piece of electronics.”

“You can argue metaphysics with Jack all you want,” Sayid says, clearly disgusted. “I am going to look for electronics, flux, all the things I will require.”

After Sayid disappears into the corridor, Desmond says, “Maybe the builders were worried about error.”

“From the appearance of this station, it's been in operation for twenty-five, thirty years,” Jack remarks. “In all that time, you've never had any human error?”

“Oh, there's been human error, brother. My predecessor blew his brains out. Before Locke there banged on my door and practically gave me a concussion, I'd been contemplating the same.”

Hurley sets down his cracker piled high with knock-off Cheez Whiz. “Dude, you wanted to kill yourself?”

“And why the hell not?”

“Because, like, besides the obvious, if you killed yourself, what would happen to this place?”

Desmond laugh sounds cracked and humorless, and he takes a swig of port.

“It's a reasonable question,” Jack says. “Why do you even have to do this at all? What happens if you don't?”

“Jack, don't you see?” Locke's been pacing to and fro like a caged tiger, but now he stops. “We have to. This is what we were brought here to do.”

Kate was sprawled on the couch, but now springs to her feet. “Brought here? What kind of nonsense is that? Nobody brought us here. Our plane crashed.”

“Nothing's a coincidence, Kate,” Locke says, sounding just like that mystical guy on Kung Fu, the one the townspeople ignored at best and beat the crap out of at worst.

“Don't evade my question,” Jack says to Desmond in the voice he probably uses to tell somebody that if they don't listen to him, they'll be paralyzed for life. “What if you don't?”

Locke's eyes are black, incomprehensible wells. “Are you sure you want to tempt fate, Jack?”

Jack scoffs. “This has nothing to do with fate, or belief, or anything else, John. Third time's a charm, Desmond, or I'm seriously thinking about inviting Sayid back in here and—“

“Jack!” Kate shouts, and he pauses, shocked.

“Don't even go there, Jack,” Hurley says, deathly quiet. He may be fat as ever, but the daily workout called life on the Island has left him powerfully strong. “Because I will stop you.”

For an instant Jack looks so alone, with everyone against him. He fights to come back to himself, though, and wins. “Desmond, please. What happens if we don't enter the code?"

Desmond slams down the bottle of port so hard that it makes the unwashed dishes on the counter rattle. "You want to know what happens if you don't push the button? You really want to know?"

He runs from the room, and Jack is too astonished to stop him. Returning with a crumpled pile of archaic computer paper, Desmond lets the folded pages drop open and stabs them repeatedly with a shaking finger. "This is what happened! I crashed your plane!"


* * * * * * * *


Later that night, Hurley trudges back to the beach camp through humidity thick as a sodden cloud. He, Sayid, and Locke are laden with Swan Station treasure: duct tape, soap, hand tools and cooking utensils. Hurley's managed to snag blankets, bed linens, and towels for Claire and the baby, as well. He plans to surprise Sawyer with a few Stephen King books, the really scary old ones like Carrie, The Stand, and Pet Sematary.

Whoever was living in the Swan Station before Desmond had some pretty morbid taste in reading.

In fact, Desmond's whole story was pretty morbid. His fellow key-pusher, a CIA spook named Kelvin, abandoned Desmond on the very day of the Oceanic 815 crash. Desmond chased after him, but the guy got away. Suddenly aware of the time, Desmond raced back to the Swan, which almost shook to pieces before he entered the numbers once more. He sat all alone for almost two months, drinking, entering the code, sleeping for barely an hour at a time.

No wonder he was ready to blow his brains out.

At the beach camp, Hurley scans for Claire, who's nowhere to be seen. Charlie and Boone are cooking in front of Boone's old tent, and Boone scowls when Shannon greets Sayid with a hug and an enthusiastic kiss. Danielle has set up a tent over by the women who hang with Kathy and Shana. At first Hurley wasn't sure if those two were a couple, but now it's obvious by how close they sit, how Kathy kisses Shana before tucking in for the night. Danielle chats with the women, relaxed, smiling.

When Boone sees Locke, he leaps to his feet at once, as if under orders. “Is it my shift?”

“Nah, you're off tonight,” Locke says. “Desmond, Jack and Kate are staying the night in the Swan. I've made up a roster. You're on tomorrow, Charlie.”

“Don't think so, mate. There's plenty of bodies to go around.”

“Charlie, you've got a job to do. You can't just quit.”

“Bugger off, John,” Charlie says, ducking inside Boone's tent.

Whatever dissension is breeding in Locke's ranks, Hurley doesn't want to hear it. With a sigh, he drags his bundles to his own shelter.

“Hurley?” Claire calls from inside.

“Yeah, and I did some shopping, too.” Pulling the tent flap aside reveals the first pleasant surprise of the whole dreary day. Claire and the baby aren't resting on blanket-covered sand anymore. Instead, she sits cross-legged on a real bed made of stout bamboo, with the baby sleeping beside her. Sun sits on the bed's far corner, holding a little dish in which a candle-fish burns, and the makeshift lamp casts a cheery glow over the whole inside. On the bed, stitched-together airline blankets puff up up like a comforter.

“Dried beach grass,” Claire says, giving the bed a pat.

“We sewed and stuffed it while Jin, Michael and some of the men built the platform,” Sun explains.

“Isn't it splendid?” Claire says.

Hurley is so tired, so overwhelmed, that he almost can't fight the tears which well up.

Sun misunderstands his silence, because she adds, “Jin-Soo suggested they reinforce the base. I hope that does not cause offense.”

“It's awesome, Sun. I'll, um, oh crap, sorry about this, I'm too tired tonight. I'll thank everybody in the morning.” He's ready to bawl like an exhausted toddler.

Now Claire and Sun both stare at him, knowing something's afoot, not knowing what. With a small polite smile, Sun says to Claire, “Here, let me put Aaron down. Jin-Soo is waiting for me.”

Aaron doesn't even squeak when Sun lays him in an Oceanic food-tray container lined with a blanket. Silently she slips out, taking the candle-fish with her.

Hurley drops his burdens and whispers, “We can look at this stuff tomorrow.” Nothing from the Swan seems as wonderful as what people have put together for Claire and him with their own hands.

“You don't have to be quiet. It's good for Aaron to get used to noise.”

He sheds his clothes and crawls in next to her. The solidly-built bed squeaks a little, but holds. Stripes of moonlight peek through the cracks, silver instead of candle-fish gold. “You look great, Claire. Like you got your energy back.”

“You look like someone let the air out of you.”

“Yeah.” He wants to tell her everything, but doesn't want to upset the peaceful feeling of stillness and sanctuary which fills the space. “I got a story, but it can wait.”

She smiles, radiant as she takes his hand in hers. “I've got a story too, the most wonderful one. It can wait too.” Her palm is cool to the touch, a little rough from the hard life they've been living. “Oh, yeah, look what I made.”

Hidden in the folds of fabric of her loose blouse are two slits. She brings his hand up to one, and he parts it to feel her soft nipple.

“Instant baby access,” she goes on. “Faith gave me one, and then I stitched my own. Her work's finer, though. I can make a cardboard box look like a Chippendale antique from the first row of the theater, but I'm all thumbs with a needle.”

Her breast is smooth, taut. He touches the nipple again, and a few drops wet his finger.

She doesn't shake him off, not exactly, just lies down at his side. He takes her in his arms, not for sex, because he knows that's not going to happen for a long time, but for the sheer pleasure of feeling her chest rise and fall in time with his. When he shifts, the mattress sends up the warm fragrance of afternoon sunlight trapped in dried grass.

“Every time I think this can't get better, it does,” he whispers, but she's already asleep.

(continued)

(A/N: The chapter title is cribbed from William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies.)


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