stefanie_bean: (hugo claire blue)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 22: Fail-Safe
Pairs: Hurley/Claire, Jack/Kate, Sayid/Shannon
Characters: Hugo Reyes, Claire Littleton, Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, ensemble
Genre: Slow-build Romance
Length: 3334 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 22: Fail-Safe

The Swan Station air conditioning is ready to die. The acrid smell of sweat stings Hurley's nose, and the box fans scattered around the rooms barely move the stagnant air.

Agile Charlie has found another way into the Swan, a hatch door at the top of a metal ladder. Opening it helps a little, even if rainfall collects at the bottom and adds to the wet-basement stench.

The word “Quarantine” stenciled across the inside bothered Jack, until Ana Lucia told him they found one like it on their own bunker. “Didn't matter worth a damn. Nobody got sick.”

Desmond just sulks when asked about it. Hurley suspects he was embarrassed over staying three years underground, thinking he was going to get Captain Trips.

At least it's cool in the cave-like Swan. At the kitchen sink, Claire is giving Aaron a bath. Hurley would help, but Shannon and Sun have crowded him out. Even though Hurley wouldn't have figured Shannon for the baby-loving type, she coos and pinches Aaron's toes right along with the other two. Aaron is too little to splash, so the women do it for him.

Hurley leans back on the couch, warmth rising in his chest as he watches Claire at the sink. Laziness makes him feel a little guilty. Sayid's automatic number-entering circuit has pretty much unemployed everyone except Sayid himself.

Jack, especially, who wanders around the Swan like a bird lost and off-course. When he peers over Sun's shoulder, the women part for him. He sets Aaron on the counter and looks him over carefully, inspecting ears, throat, skin.

When the baby whimpers, Jack cuddles him to his chest, making those swaying motions which Hurley knows well. He's done them often enough himself. The baby nestles in.

Shannon pokes Claire. “Too bad Kate's not here to see this.”

That was the wrong thing to say. An embarrassed Jack quickly hands Aaron to Claire, then heads for the computer room. The women cluster around Aaron again, as if he's the center of their universe.

Which in a way he is.

Hurley lets his book drop from his hand. Not a lot on the shelves interests him. These books are like those he half-remembers from high school: boring and long-winded, that put you to sleep. Hurley would even take some Superman-universe reboots from the 'nineties, but that wasn't the taste of whoever stocked these shelves.

Listening to music isn't much of an option either. Charlie has monopolized the old-school record player, and sorts through vinyl albums, playing one, listening for only a few minutes, then swapping it out for another.

Hurley finally complains. “Dude, can't we listen to one record all the way through?”

Before Charlie can answer, Claire appears. “The gals and I are headed back to the beach.”

“Just the three of you?” Jack says with a frown. “I'll go along.”

Shannon tugs at the baby's foot. “Well, we do have Aaron. You're a big tough guy, aren't you? You'll keep us helpless women-folk safe.”

“Think I'll hang here for awhile, finish the laundry,” Hurley says.

Claire beams. “I'll get supper on, then.”

Hurley stays for another reason, too. Charlie has been dogging him for days, looking like he has something to say. He's never talked about his time in the bush with Locke and Boone, and Hurley's curious.

When Hurley kisses Claire goodbye, he notices the flash of pain which crosses Charlie's face. It can't be helped, though.

Beneath the computer room floor panels, Sayid excavates like a mole. Occasionally he pokes his head up and asks Desmond for a tool or schematic. Desmond lifts his head from whatever book he's buried in and grudgingly hands it over.

Sayid talks to himself as he works. When the Swan computer times out, there's no more clanging alarm, and the electronics do their work in silence. The manual counter resets to 108 with the flutter of shuffling cards.

Even though Charlie's DJ attempts annoy Hurley, one thing's improved. When Charlie first returned with Locke and Boone, he seemed like a shattered windshield ready to explode into fragments. Now he's calm and relaxed, almost happy. He's not even blathering about his band anymore.

Charlie leans in confidentially to Hurley. “That new arrival, she's a looker, eh?”

Who? Cindy is nice but plain as whole wheat bread. Ana Lucia? Hurley has checked out her well-shaped rear end more than once, even if The Fast and the Furious look scares him. Neither seem like Charlie's type, though.

That leaves only one possibility. “You mean Libby?”

“In a kind of rawwrrr-cougar fashion. But I was never one for age discrimination.”

Libby doesn't bore holes in Hurley anymore, when she thinks he isn't looking. Still, she seems familiar. While LA is a big city, who knows? Maybe she came into Mr. Cluck's, or had her car worked on at Uncle Emil's garage. Hurley knows he's distinctive: his size, his hair, his gut. People who see him never manage to un-see him, which is why he could never get away with messing around in school. No way could he melt into the crowd like the other kids did.

Charlie's still rattling on. “...I'm assuming you already knew, since everybody on this bloody beach does, but I was a user. A druggie. Got clean since the crash, though. I thought maybe I could get a fresh start with someone new—”

Hoo boy, this is complicated. Claire has told Hurley about Libby and Ana Lucia being a couple. Trouble is, they set up separate tents after all. Their three shelters form a little nucleus of their own, Libby in one, Ana Lucia in another, and a third for Cindy and the kids. If they're not “out” to the beach, Hurley doesn't want to blab. He hates secrets, and knows how bad he is at keeping them.

He tries to stall. “Um, Charlie, those Tailies have been through a lot. Maybe give them a little more time to settle in—“

Charlie's interruption stops Hurley dead. “How bloody dense are you, mate?”

Hurley tries to keep his voice even. “I dunno, Charlie. How dense am I?”

"All I'm trying to tell you is, I know about being obsessed with a bird. Sometimes a bloke just has to admit she's found another nest. And that there's a whole forest more of them.”

So that's it. “Sure, man. No harm, no foul.” Hurley senses this isn't what's really on Charlie's mind, though. Just the dress-rehearsal, as Claire would say.

He tries a diversion. “So, um, besides finding the Swan Station, did you guys run into any cool beaches or anything?”

Charlie pauses, as if debating how much to tell. When he does speak, it's low and quiet, so that Sayid and Desmond can't hear. “On the first night, Boone and Locke... Well, let's just say things got a bit kinky.”

Now Hurley wishes he'd kept his mouth shut. “Um... kinky?” What in the hell did Charlie step into?

“Locke made up this vile brew and wanted us to drink it, for some tribal manhood ritual. Boone gulped it right down, but I told Locke to sod off, that my manhood was just peachy, thanks for asking. Like I said, man, I'm clean now. Why would I bollocks that up by drinking Locke's joy juice? I grabbed my gear and got a quarter klick away before remembering I hadn't a sodding clue how to find the beach.

“When I got back to Locke's camp, Boone was tied to a tree like a contortionist. I apologized for interrupting a touching personal moment, but Locke blatted on that I had the wrong idea, that this was all for Boone's 'personal development.'”

“He really said that?” Hurley desperately needs a few seconds to process this.

“Said that if I knew what was good for me, I'd do the same.”

“Holy crap.”

“'No bloody way,' I told him. I pitched my tent out of earshot, knife at the ready in case he decided to hijack me for a magical mystery tour anyway. The next morning, neither of them acted like a damn thing had happened. A few days later we found this bunker, and you know the rest.”

“Man, I had no idea.” Hurley thinks back to the first week on the Island, when Claire got heat-sick. How his own flesh had crawled when Locke offered to take him into the jungle to look for water. No wonder Charlie has been avoiding Locke since they got back.

Charlie's still talking, so Hurley tunes in again. “...Not to mention that I got bloody sick of being ordered about by Old Baldy. When to go, when to stay, like I was a sodding twelve year old.”

“Boone doesn't seem to mind.”

“Don't get me going on Boone,” Charlie starts, when Sayid bursts into the room. Desmond trails behind, looking more despondent than ever.

Sayid is practically dancing up and down. “I've found the fail-safe circuit. We don't need a key after all. I can bypass it.”

“We're all going to die,” Desmond says. “If we haven't already.”

At that, Hurley gives Desmond a quick side-eye. Maybe Desmond needs some more Libby shrink-attention.

Suddenly weary, Hurley leaves Sayid to his electronics, Charlie to his records, and heads into the depths of the Swan. He passes the now-empty food pantry with a sigh, then pulls his and Claire's laundry out of the dryer. Lint from the baby's diapers covers everything, and he methodically begins to pick it off.

* * * * * * * *

Claire has wrapped fish with spices and shredded coconut, then baked them in leaves. Hurley has just tossed the leaf-wrappers into the fire and is licking his fingers when heated discussion rises from Jack and Kate's tent. Sayid and Desmond are exercised about something, apparently.

“Let's check it out,” Hurley says as Claire ties the baby into his sling.

Kate nods for Hurley and Claire to sit.

“So let me get this straight,” Jack says to Sayid. “This whole system in the Swan Station is like what, a capacitor?”

A capacitor? All Hurley can think of is a car sound system. But that can't be it.

“That's right,” says Sayid. “Charge from the electromagnetic energy deep underneath the Swan's core builds up over time. Some of this energy powers the geothermal reactor, but nowhere near all. The core structure can only absorb so much energy, and it has to be periodically released.”

“Or else what?” Jack says.

“I already bloody told you,” Desmond breaks in. “When it's not controlled, it creates gigantic EMP spikes. Like the one that crashed your plane.”

“EMP?” Claire asks.

“An electro-magnetic pulse,” Sayid says. “Of the kind that is released in a nuclear bomb.”

“What?” Kate says. “You mean we're sitting on an atomic bomb?”

Sayid sighs. “In a sense.”

Some comfort. Hurley and Claire exchange scared glances, then both look at the baby, busy at the breast.

“That's what I keep telling you,” says Desmond. “That's why there's a fail-safe. In case the system were to break down, there's a way to shut it all off. 'Make it all go away,' as Kelvin said.”

Uh, oh, Jack's pulled out his warm doctor voice. Hurley knows what that means. “Desmond, I know that after our plane crashed, things were bad for you down there. Why didn't you just use it then? Give yourself a way out?”

Desmond doesn't answer, and no one but Hurley seems to notice the tears at the corners of his eyes. Hurley has seen that at the hospital, usually right before somebody threw a chair or hit themselves with their fist. Santa Rosa was a community, the nurses always said. If someone was in trouble, call for help.

Jack's a good guy, the best. But sometimes his bedside manner really sucks. Hurley says to Jack, “Maybe Desmond thought it would be too dangerous to use. I mean, what if it like blew up the Island?”

Sayid clearly doesn't think so. “I have been poring over these circuit diagrams for days. I am convinced that whoever designed this system not only did a good job, but was fundamentally rational. There's no point in building a fail-safe which annihilates everything.”

“That's right,” Kate says. “Fail-safes are supposed to keep disaster from happening, not cause it—“

Desmond interrupts. “If the designer was so rational, why did he blow his brains out? You saw it yourself, right there on the Swan ceiling.”

Hurley shudders. All this time, he thought that stain was just water damage from a rusty pipe.

“Did he?” Sayid says in silky tones. “Your friend Kelvin was CIA. It wouldn't be the first time they lied. Perhaps Radzinsky didn't pull the trigger himself.”

Desmond doesn't say anything. It's clear this hasn't occurred to him.

“What I don't understand is this,” says Jack. “The Swan has been around since, when, the 1970s? There had to be various teams working there over the years. Why didn't someone just set off the fail-safe earlier?”

Sayid looks glad to be asked, as he rummages through his backpack. “To do so would would also probably de-activate the geothermal power source.” He pulls out a well-worn diagram and spreads it before the fire. “I only found this yesterday.”

Hurley cranes in closer. “What's that?”

“A diagram of Island power distribution. Notice all the high-voltage cables which lead outward from it. They even travel to that northern settlement, the Barracks. Interestingly, no power cables seem to go to Goodwin's Temple.”

Sayid rests back on his heels as if in triumph. “My conclusion is that they became dependent upon the Swan. Setting off the fail-safe would destroy their power supply.”

“Ours, too,” says Jack. “I like a hot shower and shave.”

“You and forty other people, brother,” Desmond says in a disgusted voice. “Your little circuit is fine, Sayid, but when the ventilation or the water pump fail, electricity won't do any good. Those we can't fix.”

“We did fine without electricity before the Swan,” Claire points out.

Jack says, “You're sure, Sayid, that this won't cause a disaster.” He waves around at the beach camp, people at their peaceful fires, the new night sky purple overhead. “Lives depend on it.”

“I'm sure of it. I believe in design, in the rationality of design.”

Something else occurs to Hurley. “You know, guys, we might not need power to live. But what about those dudes up at the Barracks? This is gonna get their attention, fast.”

“They didn't seem to care when their audiovisual feed was cut off,” says Kate.

Sayid drinks in her words, then launches himself to his feet. “Of course! Why didn't I think of it before? Jack, hold on to this woman, and don't let her go. She's invaluable.”

He grabs Kate's hand and gives it an audible kiss. Astonished, she lets him. Sayid goes on, “I spent so much time worrying about a signal fire, while all along we are sitting on an EMP generator.”

Just as Hurley thinks that maybe Sayid has gone off the deep end, Jack says, “This fail-safe, if it goes off, it's going to release a huge amount of energy.”

“An EMP burst, yes,” Sayid says, breathless with excitement.

“Which means—“

“That's right—“

The two of them look at one another, sharing silent understanding.

Kate cuts through the moment with her sharp voice. “Would someone please tell me what's going on?”

Sayid says, “There are listening stations all over the Pacific.”

“I know there are in central Australia,” says Claire. “My mum protested them when she was in college.”

“Not all of them are for spying, Claire,” Sayid says. “Some are used to detect nuclear explosions.”

“Like a giant signal fire,” Desmond muses, downcast.


Kate clutches Jack's arm. “Oh, my God, Jack. Someone will see it. We'll get rescued.”

Hurley knows why Desmond is pulling that long face. “Um, guys, did none of you see Independence Day? Because the dude that blew up the mother-ship was, um, a sacrifice. Who's gonna set this fail-safe off?”

Jack laugh stings Hurley at first. Then he sees that Jack isn't laughing at him, but from pure delight. “Hurley, have you ever set off dynamite?”


Kate's laughing now, too. “I have. My dad took me out to our fields to clear stumps. It was fun.”

Jack's on a roll now. “You don't light a stick of dynamite and let it blow up in your face.”

Once again, Sayid tunes in to Jack's wavelength. “Of course not. You light a fuse.” Again, electric inspiration seems to shoot through him.

Hurley gets it, too. It feels good not to be out of the loop, to be able to keep up for once. “Like your circuit for entering the numbers. It does it, so we don't have to. You could make something remote, set the fail-safe off.”

“Remote?” Kate says. “How?”

Sayid smacks himself on the forehead. “Why didn't I think of this sooner? The pilot's phone. I could rig it to call in a remote signal, activate the fail-safe that way.”

Hurley's glad that nobody razzes Sayid anymore about blowing up Oceanic 815. But from the silence which surrounds Sayid sometimes, it's clear that he's done things during the war, terrible things that he doesn't talk about. Even so, all that knowledge has come together, built up to this point. Whatever Sayid has done in Iraq could well get them rescued.

Jack is still calculating, though. “You don't really know what the radius of this 'event' would be, do you?”

Sayid shakes his head.

“A mile? Two?” Jack persists.

Kate says, “Our camp is about a mile and a half from the Swan. That doesn't seem very far.”

“I agree,” Jack says. “The caves won't be, either. And we don't want all our people concentrated in a place that could come down on their heads.”

Sayid's eyes light up. “The second day we were here, I set out to find the source of the radio signal.”

“That didn't work out too well for you, dude,” Hurley points out.

“True. But now we have someone with us who knows exactly where to go.”

Everyone's glance swings across the beach to where Rousseau sits in front of Sawyer's tent. Both are cleaning their rifles, and from the look of it, their talk is friendly. Not like lovers, though, Hurley notices. Not anymore.

* * * * * * * *

That night, even after Aaron settles down, neither Hurley nor Claire can sleep. They hold onto each other in the dark, where Hurley snuggles her close against his chest.

She nestles into his arm and whispers, “This could really happen, couldn't it?”

He murmurs something reassuring, all the while thinking of a photograph in the Swan Station, a garishly-colored landscape of Joshua Tree National Forest. It would be awesome to take Claire there, baby Aaron strapped into a car-seat, the desert winds blowing hot and clean through lowered windows.

Scary, too. Everything he ran away from in Los Angeles will still be there when he gets back. The fight with his dad. His parents kissing and cooing like teenagers. His mom's pity. Not to mention the fallout of a return from the dead. What to do with all that money, now that he has a reason to care.

Then there's getting married, with all that means. He strokes Claire's hair, runs his fingers over her soft cheek, his heart surging at her small, happy sigh.

For all these weeks he hasn't wanted to think about rescue, for fear of disappointment. Of disappointing her.

Sure, there are Others out there, maybe ready to pounce on them. But the thing in the trees has been quiet for a long time, and the Others haven't appeared. LA spreads out in Hurley's mind, no longer a boring place to escape from, but somewhere full of wonder and possibility, especially if he can see it through Claire's eyes.


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