stefanie_bean: (hugo claire blue)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 24: The Watcher in the Woods
Pairs: Hurley/Claire, Jack/Kate, Sayid/Shannon
Characters: Hugo Reyes, Claire Littleton, Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, ensemble
Genre: Slow-build Romance
Length: 3535 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 24: The Watcher in the Woods

Hurley lies on his back under a star-strewn night, gazing at clouds as they pass over the face of the moon, but no sleep comes to him. Claire rests curled on one side of his chest, with the baby draped across the other, as if Hurley is the most comfortable mattress in the world.

It's colder on the radio tower plateau than by the seaside, and the wind never stops. Claire has tucked a coarse Swan station blanket around herself and the baby, before collapsing in exhaustion from the long hike. The other blanket isn't enough to cushion Hurley's back from the hard ground, despite a layer of sedge grass.

The trees are different, too, more like those in the Santa Monica Mountains outside LA, leafier and less jungle-like. The night birds won't shut up, either, and once in awhile Hurley swears that eyes gleam at them from the forest edge, red circles glinting in the firelight.

He misses his and Claire's snug tent. Their grass-stuffed mattress on a bamboo frame seems like the height of luxury, compared to this rough camp-out. When the baby's business end grows warm and wet against Hurley's t-shirt, he's had enough. Not like he's going to get any sleep anyway. He slides Aaron off first, then rolls Claire over his belly so that she lands next to the baby. She doesn't even stir.

He cocoons the two of them in a blanket, his legs and back creaking with stiffness. The fabric shines grey in the moonlight, and Claire's hair blows about in silver wisps. He's about to say to hell with it, to spoon her from behind even if it means lying on the bare ground, when swaths of golden light sweep the camp site.

It's Sayid and Scott, both carrying torches. Leaving Claire, Hurley joins them at the central campfire, and unpacks jackfruit slices and dried octopus while Sayid scans about for Shannon.

“She almost gave up on you, dude,” Hurley says. “She's over there, by the radio tower.”

In between bites of chewy octopus, Sayid remarks, “Navigating the jungle at night was more challenging than we thought.”

“It didn't help that we were followed for awhile,” Scott says.

“Followed?” Hurley says with a gulp.

“You didn't hear it from up here?” says Sayid.

“Hear what?” Even as Hurley speaks, his flesh creeps, and he knows.

“The thing,” Scott says. “We didn't see it, but we sure as hell heard it. Like a wrecked car being dragged over hot pavement.”

“We thought it would be prudent to take a detour,” says Sayid.

Over the weeks, everyone has stopped speaking of the dark shape in the woods. It's almost as if they've forgotten it, until now. Hurley sure as hell has.

The moon seems to mock them with its bright, unblinking eye. A few people stir, awakened by the torch-glow and the low-voiced conversation.

Shannon approaches, hair all wild from sleep, her perfume strong in the night breeze. “I figured you had stood me up, Sayid. Even if I did keep the sleeping bag warm.”

Jack and Kate are up, too, with Kate wrapped in a blanket folded like a poncho. “Success, I see,” says Jack. “Everyone all right down at the beach? Any damage?”

“No one was harmed,” Sayid answers, pulling off a long string of octopus. “Minimal damage, a few tents down, a dent in the fuselage roof. I did fear for our eardrums for a time.”

“It was awful,” Kate says. “I can't imagine what it must have sounded like at close range.”

Jack springs into action. “Any bleeding, residual tinnitus?”

“Jack, we're fine,” Sayid says.

The fire is burning down again, so Hurley feeds it. Dried wood is way harder to find up here on the plateau, and he hopes the last scarce branches will last till morning. Not that a camp-fire is going to scare away something that rips trees up, or men's guts apart.

“We should explore the Swan site tomorrow,” Sayid says. “Tonight, I had other priorities—“

“You sure do,” Shannon says.

“Including letting Jack know that everything went according to plan.” Sayid rises to his feet, his arm around Shannon. “And now, if you will excuse us...”

Sayid and Shannon don't make it out of the fire circle, though. From the darkness Boone's voice hisses out, “Hey, Shannon.” His eyes glint like the animals Hurley has imagined at the forest's edge. Nearby, Locke huddles in a snoring lump.

“Isn't it past your bed-time?” Shannon snaps. Sayid tries to steer her along, but she stops dead in her tracks.

“So, have you told him yet?” Stubble blurs Boone's perfect jaw. His words slide out, as if he's been drinking, although there is no more alcohol, not even Swan station leftovers.

Big as Hurley is, it's as if they don't notice him at all.

Sayid stops too, alert as a cat. “Tell me what?”

Boone's chuckle rolls out. “I bet you think she's Miss Pure and Wholesome. Let me give you a few tips on what she likes, especially when—“

Locke's voice pierces the tense night air like a gunshot. “Boone, shut up.”

Sayid won't let it rest. His whole body tenses into a fighting stance as Shannon shakes with silent tears. “Thank you for your concern, John,” he says, fighting to control his voice. “But I would like to hear more.”

Hurley knows that when Sayid sounds sweet and reasonable, somebody's about to get hurt. Shannon switches from silent to high-volume crying, which draws a crowd. Across the camp, Claire has wriggled out of her blanket burrito and tries to push through to Hurley.

Boone staggers to his feet, thrown off balance by Sayid's verbal judo. “That night in the hotel, Shannon, before the flight. Or has it slipped your mind, the way you slipped down your bra strap? While you're at it, he might like to know why you were in Sydney.”

Shannon pulls herself together faster than Hurley could imagine. “Take your white-knight jousting lance and stick it up your ass, Boone. Sideways.”

Boone's jaw drops. No one dares breathe. Breathing out a low curse, he races towards Shannon.

There's only one thing for Hurley to do, standing in a direct line between the two of them. He lifts his knee, right in Boone's path.

Boone collides with Hurley's leg and flips like an acrobat, but he doesn't land like one. When he hits the ground, air shoots out of him with a massive “Oof.”

He stares at Hurley in confused rage, but Hurley just lets him lie there. As Locke half-drags Boone to his feet, he says, “I'm disappointed in you, son. I thought you'd gotten beyond that.” It must hurt Boone, the way Locke squeezes the fingers of one hand into his upper arm, but Boone is silent.

Locke turns to face the group, as if ready for a fight himself. Moonlight reflects from his t-shirt and bald head, making him look like he's clad in glistening white armor.

Jack stands at the circle's edge, hands on hips, frowning. “People, we're forgetting our purpose. We're all working for the same goal, to get rescued. That's what we all want—“

“I don't.”

Everyone stares at Locke.

Sawyer has been silent, lurking on the fringe until now. “Then you can kindly stay the hell out of everybody else's way, Mr. Clean.”

“What have you got to go back to, James?”

People look at one another, confused, including Hurley. Who the hell is “James?”

“That's your name, isn't it? From the manifest.”

Sawyer looks abashed, the fight gone out of him.

Encouraged, Locke goes on. “What do any of us have waiting back there? Don't you see? We were brought here for a reason.”

“What reason is that, John?” Kate's voice cuts like a blade through the night air. “If there's some magical, mystical reason, I want to know what it is.”

For an instant Locke looks confused, before gesturing towards the radio tower. “Now that this thing's shut off, maybe we can find out what it is. Before, when you were all trying to find it, we couldn't hear clearly.”

“Hear what, John?” In his irritated exhaustion, Jack looks about to snap.

Locke's eyes suggest revelations, pent up since the crash. “The Island. Sayid, please try to understand why I had to stop you—“

He doesn't even get to finish his sentence. In his mind, Hurley sees Sayid from the first week after the crash, after that failed mission to find the radio tower: his bloodied head, his rage at getting cold-cocked from behind.

“You dog,” Sayid growls. He rushes Locke, but Jack, Sawyer, and Scott are faster, and catch him before he connects.

Hurley doesn't help them, because he's too busy cradling Claire and Aaron in his arms, the baby squeaking in protest at being jammed against Hurley's stomach. Kate and Sun keep Shannon from flying at Locke with her sharp fingernails.

As three men wrestle Sayid to the ground, he slips halfway out of Jack's grasp. Sawyer drags him back by the legs, but Sayid is so enraged that the men can't hold him. When he collapses in surrender, it's by his own volition.

Shannon breaks free and flies to his side. Jack crouches beside both of them, saying in low, urgent tones, “Sayid, you did what we came to do. Just let it go.” He helps both Sayid and Shannon to their feet, but Sayid still shoots daggers at Locke.

“He is lower than a dog. A snake, crawling on its belly and eating dust. You cannot trust him.”

As Locke moves past, the group parts to let him through, avoiding eye contact. When he lets Boone go, Boone rubs his arm.

“We'll be leaving in the morning,” Locke announces.

Jack looks puzzled for an instant. “We're all leaving in the morning.”

“Show's over, everybody,” says Sawyer, and for the first time people actually listen to him. The crowd begins to break up.

Hurley and Claire return to their blankets, but no matter how closely he holds her, no matter how tenderly he caresses her back, neither of them sleep for a very long time.

* * * * * * * *


Dawn breaks, cold and smeared with gray. Jack tries to corral the group so that they all return to the beach camp together, but half the band has already drifted away. Hurley doesn't blame them for not wanting to watch a repeat performance of the Sayid-and-Locke show.

“They won't get lost,” Danielle remarks, as carefree as if children were returning to the bunk house at summer camp. “It is all downhill, and the path is clearly marked.” She then turns back to copying a map onto a piece of paper, the dedication page torn from one of Sawyer's books.

Locke takes it without thanking her. Next to him, Boone rubs the purple blotch on his upper arm.

“Where's Mr. Locke going?” Walt asks.

Michael doesn't answer. Instead he turns to Locke in appeal. “You sure you want to do this, man?”

Locke ignores him as he studies Danielle's stark, clear lines. The twisting path marked by arrows ends in a squat building that looks like something found in the Peruvian jungle. The Temple.

“If someone shows up for us, we might have to go suddenly,” says Jack. “We may not be able to get to you.”

Locke just gives Jack an enigmatic smile as he holsters his pistol in his waistband, his pockets full of ammo. “I'm not looking to be rescued, Jack.”

Shannon wipes her eyes, as if she has been up all night crying. “Does that go for you too, Boone?”

Boone shakes his head as if listening to buzzing flies, not conversation.

When she plants herself in front of him, not even Sayid holds her back. “When we get rescued, what the hell am I supposed to tell your parents?”

“His parents? Like, not their parents?” Hurley says, confused.

“I'll explain later,” Claire whispers.

As Boone brushes by Shannon, all he says is, “Tell my mother I'm dead.”

She turns away with a stricken face as Boone and Locke disappear into the morning jungle gloom.

* * * * * * * *


Only Walt seems to miss Locke. On the way back to the beach, Vincent dances around the children, trying to lead them into the forest to play, although Michael and Cindy won't let them. In frustration Michael leashes Vincent and pulls him to heel with a strong arm. Their small group mopes along in silence.

No one cares to form a guarding phalanx around the marchers. People with rifles mingle with the rest of the throng. Knowing that the thing is out there leaves them frightened and reassured at the same time. Instinctively they know that shooting at it would be pointless. The only comfort is that the Others are probably afraid of it, too. Why else would they cower in a temple, or in their northern village?

Claire clings to Hurley for awhile, then groups up with Shannon, Sun and Kate. They put their heads together, talking in low voices so that no one else can hear. Hurley lags behind, because downhill travel is actually trickier than up. As he picks his way over rocks and tree roots, he doesn't trust his big, clumsy feet. It would suck to fall and sprain an ankle, or worse.

Sawyer hangs back with Hurley, rifle swinging from his shoulder. “Should have grabbed a pistol,” he remarks. “This thing's a pain in the ass.”

“Doesn't seem to bother Danielle,” Hurley says. She and Sayid are out of sight, up at the head of the moving column, leading the way with watchful eyes and fingers ready on the trigger.

Hurley stubs his toe on a rock, which slows him down even more.

“You all right there, Hugo?”

Hugo. No one has called him that since he left Sydney. “How'd you know that's my name?”

“Ol' Baldy wasn't the only one who got ahold of the manifest.” He pats his side pocket. “Just thought it might come in handy.”

The last of the walkers move past them. Hurley says, “That Temple place, you said it was kinda hard to get into. You think they'll take Boone and Locke?”

“Hard to say. Maybe they got ways to smell out a man's sincerity. Goodwin just bolted there out of fear. Locke, he's different. He's a believer.”

Sawyer sounds different when he's not being sarcastic, almost like someone Hurley could kick back and chill with. “Destiny, right.” Hurley wonders what kinds of trials Locke and Boone will have to go through to join the Temple.

Before they know it, they've brought up the rear. Hurley points to the jungle off the path. “I gotta, um.”

“What the hell,” Sawyer says. “Buddy system, remember?”

The undergrowth is scanty on the hillside, and the first copse of bushes they come to are covered with spiders. “The jumping kind,” Sawyer says. “I'll hold it till the next exit.”

The ground slopes more steeply than expected, and soon the path above them vanishes from view. Sawyer positions himself away from Hurley, and lowers his rifle to the ground.

As they zip up, a shadow falls over them from behind. The tree-tops rustle, and Hurley's stomach drops to his knees. If he hadn't already peed, he'd cut loose for sure. Although the jungle is warm, a clammy coldness steals over him, working its way from the inside out.

He doesn't know what he'll do, what he'll see if he turns around. Whatever it is, it's big, almost blotting out the sun. Peering over, he sees Sawyer's fear-bleached face.

The jungle behind them rustles again, as if gathering its strength. Hurley's abuelita had a tabby cat that used to stalk birds: the tense anticipation, the twitching of tail, the trembling legs, and then the strike—

“Run!” Sawyer yells. “Just fucking run!”

They tear-ass down the hill, and it's a miracle that Hurley doesn't topple head over heels. The roar behind them rises almost to a scream, and Hurley can hear the sound of splintering wood, as branches thump on the ground.

Something crazy possesses Sawyer, and he stops to look behind him. His eyes grow big as a Mojave desert rabbit caught in the headlights of the jeep about to turn it into road tostada. Hurley can't stop in time, though, and the shock of hitting muscle and bone shoots through him.

Both of them tumble down the hillside like bowling pins. Hurley covers his head and lets himself roll with it, praying that he won't smash into a tree. Soon the ground flattens out, and they both slide to a halt.

Sawyer's face is scratched, his hair covered with leaf litter. He pulls himself to his feet, checking to see if anything is broken or out of place. “You ever play football?”

What the hell? “Uh, no.”

“Too bad, Gordo. You'd of made one hell of a lineman.”

“Sorry.”

Sawyer claps him on the shoulder. “No sorry about it. You might have saved our asses.”

“Dude, I don't think we could have outrun that thing.”

They exchange a bleak glance. It was playing with them, not hunting. Had it wanted to catch them, their guts would have been strewn over the jungle like party streamers.

The woods are silent now, without a single bird cheep. The dark shadow is gone, but around them trees lie toppled, while broken branches hang from those still standing. Sawyer and Hurley have landed in a box canyon, overhung with scrubby trees.

“Shitfire,” Sawyer says. “Left my rifle.”

“It's probably still there.”

As they make their way uphill, it's no longer clear where “there” is. An enormous fallen tree blocks their way, and Hurley can't climb the rocky cliffs which flank it on both sides, which forces them downhill for a time. When they start climbing up once more, the trees are thicker, covered with long thin vines like hair. After a few false turns and starts, it dawns on them both that they are lost.

The heavily canopied forest is muggy and hot. Hurley plops onto a log, wiping his wet face.

“You got any water in there, Hugo?”

Hurley doesn't mind the way Sawyer says his name. His tone doesn't quite show respect, but it's close enough. Lucky the backpack didn't come off in his tumble. He rummages through the spare diapers, a little food, plus half a dozen water bottles.

The jungle is still unnaturally quiet, but when Sawyer twists off the bottle cap, the branches shake, just out of sight.

It's not like the treetop catastrophe they've just experienced, because this small sound is more human. Hurley recognizes the next noise, too: the click a rifle makes when the safety is released.

Sawyer has heard it as well. In a voice dripping with exhaustion he says, “I'm too tired to play with you, whoever the fuck you are. I surrender. Take me to your leader.”

Now it's Hurley's turn to stare, slack-jawed, as the bushes part and three people emerge into the greenish light. The first one is a woman, and all Hurley registers at first is that she's got them trained in her rifle sights. Sawyer's rifle, by the looks of it. Behind her, two darker shapes still crouch in the shadows.

“Water,” she demands, waving her rifle at Sawyer. Her tense stance reminds Hurley of Danielle, but her voice cracks.

“How 'bout you say please, Blondie? Better yet, trade you water for my gun.”

Sawyer must have broken something in his brain during their downhill slide, but amazingly, it's the right thing to say. Under the dirt and sweat, the woman is indeed blonde, with wide blue eyes that stand out in her earth-smeared face. Best of all, she lowers the rifle.

“Not just yet,” she says, her voice smoother now.

Hurley hands her three bottles, fixing his eye on the rifle as if that will keep it from going off. Out of the corner of his eye, he spies the two others, a teenage girl with thick, dark hair, and a slightly older, gangly boy.

They crouch in a cluster and guzzle their water, while the woman rests the rifle across her knees, safety still off. The boy gives the dark-haired girl the remainder of his bottle. When she finishes, she licks the rim, as well as the wet outside.

Hurley thinks back to his first week on the Island, before they found the caves, to those days when it didn't rain. This is what real thirst looks like. He hands the blonde woman the last bottle. They share it, more slowly now that they're not so thirsty.

“You got any food in there?” the girl says.

“Jackfruit, but it's kinda squished.”

The boy and girl practically snatch it from Hurley's outstretched hand, tossing the leaf wrappers aside and cramming the starchy mess into their mouths.

The blonde woman takes some, too. She wipes her mouth and smiles, sweet as breaking morning, then extends her hand while still keeping hold of the gun.

“I'm Juliet,” she says.

(continued)


(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-09 12:18 am (UTC)
desdemonaspace: (Default)
From: [personal profile] desdemonaspace
Eeee, Juliet! I ship her and Sawyer like whoa. Nice introduction. Lots of suspense. I love Sawyer's nonchalant, "I'm too tired to play with you, whoever the fuck you are. I surrender. Take me to your leader." He's so cool.

Boone is so pathetic, slut-shaming his sister. Or rather, step-sister, but a little respect would have been nice. You show eaten-up-with-jealousy Boone so well. I'm glad Sayid is smitten enough with Shannon not to have knee-jerk Muslim prudery. I love the two of them together. She's a character that seems to need (or at any rate, enjoy) a man's strong lead. And Sayid is just that man. I smiled at this: when Sayid sounds sweet and reasonable, somebody's about to get hurt.

I don't know quite what to make of Locke, both canon and here, in SWH. He's a deep one, and his control of Boone puzzles me. He seems to be looking for an acolyte.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-09 02:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stefanie-bean.livejournal.com
Thanks, so glad you liked it.

Shannon likes Sayid's strength, but she's definitely no little flower. She gives as good as she gets. ;-)

Yeah, I was pretty much ready for Juliet to show up, with friends.

I'm also glad that you thought the Sayid/Shannon/Boone parts worked. I felt that in-show, Boone died before a lot of that conflict could get resolved.

Sayid in this story pretty much follows his in-show characterization, which was never prudish. It was a honey trap that got him back to the Island, after all!

As far as Locke goes, in-show he's pretty much shown as desperate both for his father's love, and in collecting acolytes of his own (Eddie, Charlie, Boone.)

If you want to read more thoughts of mine on Locke, there's this. (http://lostspiration.tumblr.com/post/130413386389/men-of-faith-in-lost) (If I linked you to this earlier, sorry.)

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