stefanie_bean: (hugo claire blue)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 23: Candle in the Wind
Pairs: Hurley/Claire, Jack/Kate, Sayid/Shannon
Characters: Hugo Reyes, Claire Littleton, Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, ensemble
Genre: Slow-build Romance
Length: 3221 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 23: Candle in the Wind

In the grueling week which follows, the survivors file between the Swan Station and the beach like ants in a line. They bring back to their camp everything they can carry.

“What's the point?” the grumpy man named Leslie says. “Who needs all this junk if we're going to get rescued anyway?”

“I can't guarantee that.” Jack has said this to multiple people dozens of times this week. Fatigue and irritation line his face.

“Look, Leslie,” Kate says. “Take some of the wire shelves for your insect collection.”

That shuts Leslie Arzt up, at least for the time being.

Because of the baby, Claire stays behind with Rose and a few of the older people, but there's no rest for them either. They collect wood, scavenge for fruits and vegetables, and dry fish on bamboo racks. They cook gallons of porridge and stew, because no one else has time to forage.

Sawyer carries armloads of Swan books in bundles tied with twine. Michael makes one travois after another, for easier dragging. Zach and Walt tie a little cardboard cart to Vincent, then laugh when the dog bolts and everything inside bounces onto the path. Emma rolls her eyes, then files behind Cindy and Libby for yet another trip.

The castaways wear the ground flat beneath their feet. The bare trail looks as if they have been pacing along that path for years.

Claire watches Hurley leave each morning, then at night spoons out fish stew for him as he collapses, ravenous and exhausted, in front of their fire. She salves his sore hands with aloe and rubs his aching shoulders until he sinks into fitful sleep.

Something's troubling him, she's sure of it. At night he buries himself in her arms as if it's the only safe place on the Island, and shivers a little as she strokes his hair. Even though she asks, he won't tell her what's going on.

Finally, one blazing morning, Jack declares that they're done. Hurley just shakes his head, Nope, not yet.

The beach camp looks like the world's largest jumble sale. What more could they possibly bring from the Swan?

More than that, Claire's tired of Hurley's evasions. She pulls him aside and her whisper is harsh. “I'm fed up, Hurley. What's crawled up your tail-pipe and built a nest?”

Over by the skeleton of the fuselage, Jack and Kate strap on their packs. Sayid and Shannon haven't been seen all week, with Sayid working full-time in the Swan Station, building what's needed to set off the fail-safe remotely. Full of serious caution, Ana Lucia gives orders to Cindy and Libby, before joining Jack and Kate.

Jack beckons to Hurley to come along, but Claire stomps her foot so hard that sand puffs up under her trainer. “Oh, no, you don't. Not till you tell me what the hell is going on.”

Hurley sighs like a great bellows, then waves for Jack to wait. “Maybe you better come with and see. Maybe it'll make a difference.”

“See what?”

He's about to answer when Jack calls out, “Hurley, you ready?”

“Please, Claire,” Hurley says. “It's complicated. I'm not sure if we're doing the right thing.”

At the sight of his sad, sweet face, her anger fades. “Of course I'll come along. Let me change Aaron first.”

* * * * * * * *

Claire's nose wrinkles at the locker-room smell of the Swan Station. People's footsteps echo across the rooms, bare now save for some couches, computers, and the washer-dryer set.

Shannon sees Claire's grimace. “I know, it's awful. Sayid and I have been sleeping outside in a tent. I don't know how Desmond can stand it.”

Jack, Kate, and Ana Lucia talk quietly, out of earshot. When Locke and Boone walk in, Shannon folds her arms, frowning. Boone breezes by her without speaking. Sayid emerges from the computer room and gives Shannon a protective squeeze, then goes back to his electronics.

To Claire, it feels like a meeting is about to happen, one that no one really wants. Then she sees the open door, the one that's always been closed every time she has visited the Swan. She squints into the darkened closet, trying to identify the glinting, shadowy objects which line the walls.

“Told you we had a problem,” Hurley says in a glum voice. “And it's my fault.”

Oh, good God, not that again. “Hurley—“ Then she stops short. She's never seen so many guns in her life, not even on the station where her grandfather raised sheep.

“All right!” Ana Lucia's barking tone makes Claire jump. “Time to get started. Jack, you got the list?”

“Right here, Ana.”

She studies the slip of paper for a few seconds, lips moving as she reads. “Bernard? Really?”

“He took trophies in trap and skeet,” Kate says. “Even if Rose almost didn't let me write his name down.”

“And she wouldn't have, if you hadn't twisted her arm,” Hurley mumbles.

“You got a complaint, Hugo?” says Ana Lucia. “After all, this was your idea.”

“Your idea?” Claire says sharply. “What idea?”

Ana Lucia can't keep the triumph out of her voice. “What, you didn't tell your girlfriend?”

Jack says, “Ana, just because Hurley brought it up, doesn't mean that we didn't all—“

“I never agreed to this, Jack,” Locke interrupts. “I wanted to secure the firearms. Keep them on a strict need-to-know basis, rather than upset a lot of our people. As it clearly has.”

“You think I'm upset because there are guns?” At the shriek in Claire's voice, Aaron starts to cry.

Hurley holds out his hands for the baby. “Here, let me—”

“No!” This only makes Aaron cry louder. “Oh, bother, don't you see? You're, you're... part of the problem!”

He winces as if she'd slapped him, which in a way she has. She starts to cry along with the baby.

Kate snaps into action. “Come on, you two. Lucky this sofa was too big to move.” She pulls Claire and Hurley along as if they were toddlers, and plunks them down on either side of her. “So, no kidding?” Kate says to Claire, as if the outburst never happened. “You grew up hunting? I tracked elk in Montana with my dad.”

Putting Aaron on the breast quiets him at once, and Claire sniffles a little before speaking. “I was twelve when Gramps put a rifle in my hand. Wild dogs were killing the lambs. Mum and I helped him for years.”

“Maybe you should have one of the rifles, then. As for you, Hurley, sounds like you have some explaining to do.”

Before he can speak, Kate slips over to Jack, where Ana Lucia still pores over the list.

Hurley can't look at her. “Sorry, Claire, it was kind of a mess. I didn't want to upset you.”

He goes on to tell her how at the beginning of the week, Desmond opened the armory, revealing the cache inside. How Jack and Sayid stopped Locke and Boone from nicking the firearms.

“I kind of broke the lock,” Hurley says. “So that nobody could change the combination and hog them. Jack didn't want to spread them around at first. I just thought that if everybody who could use one had one, we'd have you know, like guards or something, when we all evac'd to the radio tower.”

“Hurley, that makes so much sense. Why wouldn't you tell me?”

“It just seemed... Let's put it this way. My mom would have blown a gasket over all these guns. She was always worried about us. Diego and me.”

He hangs his big head until she chucks him under the chin. “Sorry I yelled.” She has to fight the smile which bubbles up inside, because his eyes are still sad, and she doesn't want to hurt his feelings.

“I just didn't want Locke keeping everything a secret. But then I kept one.”

Across the room, Jack, Kate, and Ana Lucia are still debating over who gets what weapons. Now Claire notices the broken combination lock, the splintered wood. Hurley must have used a hammer, with a lot of force.

No one is paying them any attention, so Claire pulls Hurley in close. “Look, you want to get married, right?”

He nods, all warm and open now. “More than anything.”

“No secrets, then. Something like this happens, if something worries you or makes you feel down, just tell me. Even if I yell a bit, I'll get over it.”

His head falls onto her shoulder, and his answer sends a warm shiver through her. “Thanks, Claire.”

He doesn't move away, so she holds him, full of relief as she breathes in the wood-smoke fragrance of his hair. Ana Lucia glances over at them, and her stern face softens into a smile.

* * * * * * * *

The next morning, Claire and Shannon pack while Sayid gathers Scott, Steve, and Bernard around him. They have volunteered to stay behind.

Desmond says to Sayid, “I wouldn't ask you to do something that I wouldn't, brother. Count me in for the duration.”

“Thanks,” Sayid says, clapping him on the shoulder.

Mr. Eko, who has tirelessly hauled furniture and crates from the Swan all week, once more picks up his saw and ax. “I will finish raising the church frame.”

“I'll help you,” Charlie says. “If nobody else needs me, that is.”

Handing Charlie the ax, Mr. Eko says, “Cut as many palm fronds as you can, and we will thatch the roof.”

“Father Eko, are you sure you don't want to come with us?” says Claire.

Mr. Eko smiles like someone listening to a song playing deep inside of him. “I have consecrated the church grounds. No harm will come to them.” He gazes at Aaron, tenderness pouring from his rough face. “Would you permit me to give the baby a blessing?”

“May I have one, too?” she says in a small voice.

He lays one hand on Aaron's head, and another on hers. She can't tell whether he mutters in Latin or his own native language, yet it warms her, and she feels a little less anxious.

What surprises Claire is that Rose insists on remaining with Bernard.

Jack objects. “It could be dangerous, Rose.”

“You didn't tell Sayid that.”

Bernard starts to polish the shotgun's walnut stock, humming a little to himself.

Rose goes on, “I've been separated from my husband for almost two months, Jack, and I don't want to repeat that. More so, I'm living on borrowed time. Me and Bernard, we see eye to eye on this. If we die, we die.”

Shannon looks up. “Die? What's she talking about, Sayid?”

He smiles as he lifts her suitcase to test the weight. “No one is going to die, Shannon, at least not today. Look, it's less than a day's walk to the radio tower, and only one overnight. Must you take so much?”

“It's got wheels. Anyway, if Rose can stay, why can't I?”

Sayid has to work hard to resist her pout. “We have been over this, Shannon. I don't anticipate a problem, but I want you out of range anyway.” When she pouts again, Sayid melts. “Look, after we 'light the candle,' I'll speed up to the radio tower myself.”

“But that'll take hours.”

“I can maneuver more quickly in the jungle than this multitude.” When he smiles, it's Shannon's turn to soften. “Keep the sleeping bag warm for me.”

Only Claire notices Boone's glare as he follows the couple with his eyes, until they disappear into the jungle.

* * * * * * * *

The march up to the radio tower passes in a blur of green and gold. Never has Claire seen rain-forest like this, not even during her school holiday in Daintree, up in north Queensland. Soaring trees arch together like fingers, but can't hold the liquid light which spills between them.

Claire would like to cling to Hurley's hand as they traipse along, but he's on patrol. He has refused a gun, so Kate has given him the binoculars that she filched from the Swan. He sweeps the horizon back and forth with keen, patient vision, while those with weapons flank the walkers on either side.

The landscape appeals less and less to Claire as they climb. Up they head, always uphill, until the land spreads out before them in a flat, high mesa. Nestling on the beach hasn't prepared the survivors for the vast expanse of green land, for the enormous clouds which slide across the china-blue sky.

The radio tower sticks out like an ugly intrusion. Footsore, short of breath, everyone gathers at the base as Jack, Kate, and Danielle disappear into the radio tower's control room.

Claire plops down next to Shannon and Cindy, while the children run about. In calm tones Cindy shows the children the “High Voltage” sign, and tells them that they are to stay away from the ladder.

Michael stops by. “You're good with them, Cindy, especially Walt. He snaps right to, no backtalk.”

Cindy gives him a cool, professional smile. “Children want our approval, in general. Not like aggro business types or drunken rugger teams spoiling for a fight. In my line of work, though, you learn to handle them all. The kids are a welcome relief.”

Claire lays Aaron down in the afternoon sun, where he wiggles his limbs and coos in the warm air. “Who do you suppose built that thing?” she says to Shannon, stretched out like a cat on her blanket.

“Army, probably. Who knows?”

“The Yank army, you mean,” Cindy remarks. She keeps one firm eye fixed on the three children, who still sneak longing looks at the radio tower.

Claire cranes her neck upwards. She knows that radio signals are invisible, yet in her mind they roll through the air like waves. One such current brought Hurley to their doomed flight, to this place, to her.

Hurley wants her to live with him in his parents' house in Los Angeles, at least until the lawyer sorts out the paperwork they'll need to marry. It's a big house, or so he's said. They can have a whole floor if they want.

She still can't reconcile his easy-going Yank slang, his worn board-shorts, his comfortable body with hundreds of millions of dollars. She's no stranger to strong mother figures, though. More than once, Claire has asked, Will she like me?

Each time the answer has been the same. She's gonna love you.

Over where jungle meets grassland, Hurley and Sawyer stand at look-out, telling jokes and stories like two mates at Gramp's station guarding the flock. Then Sawyer must hear something, because he unshoulders his rifle and gestures for Hurley to stay put.

At once Claire pulls Aaron to her chest, heart pounding. When Sawyer steps back into the light, he shakes his head. False alarm, apparently.

Danielle is the first to emerge from the radio tower base, followed by Kate and Jack. Claire and other survivors gather around them.

“What do you think?” Jack says to Danielle and Kate.

“The backup batteries are useless,” Danielle says. “Once the power is cut off, there will be no more signals.”

“With all respect, Danielle, you broadcast one for sixteen years.” Jack's tone says, And look what good it did you.

Kate frowns. “I thought the whole point was to send a message that couldn't be ignored.”

Jack takes a few thoughtful breaths. “Okay, let's do this.” He pulls out a flare gun, but doesn't fire right away. “Everybody, over here.”

The group assembles, even Locke, who's among the last to amble up. He stands with arms folded, as if anticipating failure. Hurley helps Claire tie Aaron into the baby-sling, which distracts her from Locke's smirk.

Jack says, “I'm going to send Sayid the signal. Since we don't know exactly what's going to happen, I think everyone should get into a crouching position, cover your heads.”

“Make like a turtle,” Brian says. “Duck and cover.”

“You poser,” says Kenneth with a laugh. “You're not old enough to remember that.”

“The hell I'm not.”

Jack fights a chuckle. As Claire forms a little cluster with Aaron and Shannon, Hurley shelters all of them with his body. Cindy, Libby, and Ana do the same with Michael and all the children.

Head down, Claire doesn't see the flare go off, only hears the bang of the gun, the whizz of the rocket as it soars skyward. She peeks out just as it blossoms red as a New Year's Eve firework.

Hurley is shaking, maybe from anxiety, or from the strain of holding a crouch so long, so she rubs his back in long, comforting strokes. The whole plateau is silent except for the whoosh of light wind and Jack's faint, exasperated sigh.

She understands his worry. Maybe Sayid's plan hasn't worked, after all. Maybe they really are stuck here for good. Maybe—

Something stabs Claire with sound, as if billions of air molecules all decided to scream at once. Hurley falls over, hands clamped to his ears, thrashing to and fro. Against Claire's breast Aaron shrieks, flailing his head back and forth. Claire barely notices the stabbing in her own head, because all she can think is, Stop, stop, you're going to kill my baby. Rage forces her to her knees. Nothing is worth this, not if anything happens to Aaron.

Above her, the roiling sky has turned purple, the color of grape juice dumped into a glass of soured milk.

All at once the shrieking air falls silent. Claire rubs her ringing ears as Aaron whimpers. Automatically she puts him on the breast. As of one mind, she and Hurley scrutinize the baby, who suckles busily as if nothing has happened.

Everyone else has pulled themselves to their feet, rubbing their heads, touching their ears, murmuring, “What the hell was that?” “You think it's over?”

Along the ridge of trees which mark the horizon, a fat mushroom cloud rises up, the color of dusty smoke.

“Oh, my God, you don't think that's radiation, do you?” Kate says, voice racked with fear.

“I don't think so,” Jack answers. “It's probably just dirt.”

“It could be radioactive dirt,” Brian adds. “That's what fallout is.”

As Jack gives him a You're not helping scowl, something happens, astonishing and terrifying because it is so unexpected. The enormous dirt-cloud vanishes, sucked back into the earth by a gigantic vacuum. The sky clears, as if the explosion never was.

“What the hell?” Hurley mutters.

Locke still wears that smirk. “The Swan didn't just explode. Looks like it imploded, too.”

From the radio tower control room doorway, Danielle announces, “Everything inside is dead. I would say that Sayid's experiment worked.”

“It did work,” Locke repeats, as if he hadn't believed it would until this instant.

Their fate now rides on an invisible burst of energy hurtling away from the Island at light-speed. What happens next is entirely out of their hands.

No one cheers or grins, except for Locke. For the first time on this expedition, maybe even since first coming to the Island, he looks genuinely happy.


(A/N: The title is borrowed from Elton John's song of the same name.)

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