stefanie_bean: (hugo claire blue)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 25: What the Heart Wants
Pairs: Hurley/Claire, Jack/Kate, Sayid/Shannon
Characters: Hugo Reyes, Claire Littleton, Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, ensemble
Genre: Slow-build Romance
Length: 3968 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 25: What the Heart Wants

As the first unearthly shriek rips through the tree-tops, the walkers freeze in place, and Claire reaches for Kate's hand. Shannon stops chattering in mid-sentence. People have spread out into a long, thin column, and it's hard for Claire to see who's behind or ahead of her.

Kate takes charge. “Let's make tracks. Don't run, though. You might slip.”

“Where's Jin?” Sun whispers, panicked.

“Up ahead with Jack,” Kate answers.

Claire cranes her neck behind, hoping to catch sight of Hurley. People ignore Kate as they stampede past, like cattle.

“Slow down!” Kate calls out. “Don't run over each other!” Still clasping Claire's hand, she pulls Claire along.

The screeching, thumping sounds in the jungle grow fainter. Even though they're trotting along at a fast walk, not a run, Claire wants to catch her breath, stop to find Hurley. She can't, though, swept up as she is in the flood of people.

“Kate!” Jack calls. “Where are you?” He and Sayid flanking the moving column, trying to restrain the chaos. It's not until the air around them stops screaming that the crowd calms down. Soon the group come to a wide clearing, full of sunlight dancing off of fluttering leaves, where Claire catches her breath along with everyone else.

The castaways huddle together, avoiding the shadows, trying to stay in the dappled sunlight even though the heat is fierce.

“Everybody all right?” Jack says as he looks the group over.

People murmur, hug each other as Claire loosens the baby from his wrap. Her heart sinks as the jungle almost fades out around her. Hurley isn't among the group, and neither is Sawyer.

Kate sees they're gone, too, and springs to her feet. “They must have been at the end of the line.”

Michael tries to make light of it. “Maybe they found a short-cut, and they're back at the beach, firing up dinner.”

“We can track them, Dad!” Walt says in an excited voice. “Vincent can be a bloodhound!”

Everything inside Claire turns to ice water. “We've got to go back. We've got to find them.” She can't allow herself think of Hurley and Sawyer caught, flung about like mice tossed by a cat—

Stop it now, she tells herself. They probably hid, or found another way back to camp, like Michael said. Her dry-mouthed sense of panic says otherwise.

“Come on, Jack,” Kate says. “We can retrace our steps.”

“You will need me,” says Danielle. “I know this forest.”

Sayid wants to come along too, but Jack shakes his head. “Someone has to get these people back to the beach.”

Shannon clings to Sayid as he leads, while Sun follows behind Jin. Claire walks along alone and forlorn, her steps weighed down by her heavy heart. She fights to keep up, not wanting to wind up at the tail of the queue. Scott and a few other men hold their rifles at the ready, and herd any stragglers like sheepdogs.

The baby whimpers, wanting to be fed, but they can't risk stopping. She lets him use her finger for a pacifier as she troops along, her worry growing with every step.

* * * * * * * *

Sawyer takes Juliet's outstretched hand in greeting. To Hurley, he looks like a man balanced on the edge of a precipice, ready for a fall but trying hard not to look down, because once he does, over he'll go.

Alex empties Hurley's backpack onto the short grass. “No more food, Karl,” she says with a disappointed pout. She unrolls a diaper and shakes it at Hurley. “These yours? 'Cause I don't see a baby.”

There's no insult in it, though. Before Hurley can explain about Aaron, Juliet rolls her eyes and sighs, “Alex, that's enough.”

Whatever spell Sawyer is under bends, even if it doesn't break. “Well, ain't your daughter full of sass. Her daddy let her talk that way?”

That shuts Alex's smile down cold, but it's Juliet's turn to chuckle. “Do I look that old?”

Sawyer grins, and now the magic is back in full force. “Maybe if you got a real early start.”

“She's not my mom,” Alex breaks in, stubborn. This isn't a new fight, it seems.

“Sure she ain't,” Sawyer says. “But I bet she's one tough cookie.”

Hurley's had enough. He re-packs his bag, staring frankly at Alex now. Karl fixes himself to her side as if glued to it, and Hurley understands the feeling. With Juliet and Sawyer clinched in their standoff, Hurley draws an unopened chocolate bar from a side pocket that Alex missed, and hands it to her. “So, you guys are like, Others?”

“What are 'Others?'” Alex says through a mouthful of chocolate.

Karl wraps his half neatly and slides it into his pocket as Hurley takes in Alex's wild, dark hair, the familiar set to her shoulders, the proud toss of the head, eyes deep and full of soul. There's no way she's Juliet's kid, and Hurley has a pretty good idea where she did come from. “How old are you?”

“Sixteen going on seventeen,” but Alex directs it to Juliet, not Hurley. “You said that if we left, it would be different. That Karl and I could finally—“

“Alex, please!” Juliet's tone hushes the girl at once. “We'll discuss this later. Anyway, Sawyer, we need to get moving.”

“Movin' where, sweetheart? Looks like you're in the driver's seat, long as you got my bang-stick there.”

A pink flush tints Juliet's cheeks, and Hurley swears she's fighting a smile. The light in her eyes goes out fast, though, because this trio is clearly on the run, and homeless.

Hurley blurts out, “If you help us find the way back to our beach, you can, you know, hang out there for awhile.”

Sawyer is torn between suspicion and liking this idea very much. “Somethin' tells me Blondie here knows this Island like it was written on her back.”

Sawyer and Juliet lock eyes again, rivers of current flowing between them. Even Karl and Alex stop joshing and fidgeting. They feel it, too.

“Kafka,” Juliet says, as if mulling this over. “A man who reads Kafka.”

It's Sawyer's turn to blush. One more false step, and over that cliff-side of the heart he'll tumble. “You know how to get us to our damn beach, or not?”

“Give me some landmarks.”

“It's near this bunker, the Swan station,” Hurley says, because Sawyer's still lost in her eyes, and anyway, Sawyer's even worse at navigating the jungle than Hurley is.

“You know about the Swan?” Juliet says, suddenly cool and cautious.

“Why shouldn't we?” says Hurley. “Say, you must know Desmond, right?” He doesn't like how a curtain lowers over Juliet's face, how she turns all twitchy and evasive as she says, “I've never met him.” As she raises the rifle barrel a little, then lowers it, Hurley can see that she's frightened, that she's been frightened all along.

Now that her fear is out in the open, it begins to infect Hurley and Sawyer, too. Although the monster is gone, they seem naked and exposed in the rocky canyon. If anyone did come after them, they'd be trapped.

Sawyer must feel it, too, because he says, “The Swan it is, Goldilocks. Lead the way.”

“If it's even there anymore,” Hurley remarks to Juliet as he straps on his pack. “Cause we kinda blew it up.”

* * * * * * * *

When the castaways arrive at the beach camp, it's clear that Hurley and Sawyer haven't beat them there at all. Claire collapses in front of the main fire, mentally swatting away the terrified thoughts which dart at her like wasps.

Bernard and Rose squat beside her, and their worried, sympathetic faces speak for them. Bernard offers her some mussel soup, but she waves him off. Someone brings her water and she mutters her thanks without looking at their face.

She changes the baby mechanically, and for the first time since the birth, the sight of Aaron's chubby baby body makes her want to cry. Poor little thing, he didn't ask to be born on an unknown Island, then have the only father he's ever known ripped away from him. She ties up his diaper, then pats his tummy gently. When a tiny smile flickers across his features, she looks away and hates herself for it.

She glances over to hers and Hurley's tent, and one hornet-sized notion sneaks through her defenses. If anything has happened to Hurley, she vows to herself, she will burn their tent to the ground. She could never sleep in it again, not without him.

The fierce thought scares her. What's wrong with her, what kind of mother is she, to think horrible things like that? She pulls the baby flat up against her chest like Hurley would. Rocking back and forth, she stares out at the open ocean as silent tears slide down her cheeks, as the late afternoon sun sags towards the sea like a blood-red ball.

Kate is the one who snaps her out of it. “Claire, honey?” Her dark-brown hair is flecked with dried leaf bits, and she smells heavily green, like the forest. Her sad face says it all. No sign of either man.

Claire has cried everything out, because the cold wave of desolation which smacks her brings no tears. He can't be gone, he can't be, she repeats to herself, hating her need, her weakness, her failure to hold it together if only for the helpless child.

Danielle slides next to them. “We retraced our steps every inch of the way but found nothing but splintered wood: no clothing, no sign that anyone was hurt. It is no matter. We will search again tomorrow, Claire.”

Danielle means well, but what does she know about any of this? True, her own child was kidnapped, but at least she didn't have to raise a baby in the forest alone. She's strong and resourceful; she had to be, or this Island would have killed her. Kate, too, can track, hunt, run through the jungle for hours. Neither of them would sit and blubber as she's been doing.

They flank Claire on either side, trying not to show the pity they must feel for the helpless mum. Kate's arm encircles her, while Danielle stares at Aaron as if he's the most beautiful creature on earth.

“You are so blessed to have him,” Danielle says.

Claire strokes wisps of fuzz on the baby's head. The beach camp has resumed its regular rhythms, as if they hadn't been busy as carpenter ants for a week, or trekked halfway across the Island and back. People stir pots, crouch in front of fires, while the sun turns the sea from maroon to deep purple, and one green star appears over the horizon.

There's a Hurley-sized hole in the beach camp, in her tent, in her heart, and Claire doesn't know what she will do with herself if he is gone.

* * * * * * * *

Juliet leads the way through light woods which grow more like the dense foliage Hurley is used to. Alex and Karl glide behind her, silent and graceful as deer, and it's hard for Hurley to keep up. When he thumps up against a log or breaks a branch, Juliet turns to glare, but he ignores her. He has as much chance being quiet as he would jockeying the winner in the Kentucky Derby.

As they pick their way through dense jungle, chunks of concrete and shredded metal begin to dot the forest floor. Fragments of electrical cable like colored snakes hang in the trees.

Finally they reach the gaping pit that seems a hundred feet wide, its sloping crater filled with powdered dirt, twisted metal, and broken rebar.

“You shoulda seen it go off,” Sawyer remarks to Juliet. “Like an atom bomb movie, but played in reverse. It sucked everything back down into itself.”

Juliet just stares into the pit's dark eye, closed forever. Alex and Karl hold onto each other, fighting the urge to dance for joy. Karl lets out a laugh, more like a snort.

Sawyer growls, “You think this is funny, kid?”

“Not at all. It's how we got away.”

“When the lights went off,” Alex adds. “Everyone was panicking, so Juliet offered to go check the fence.” She smiles at Juliet, real pride in her voice.

“The power was off at the main,” Juliet says. “We didn't have much time.”

“But that means...” Hurley imagines a cluster of houses with a black, tornado-like whirlwind heading right for it. “Sawyer, didn't that dude Goodwin say that fence was to keep the thing out?”

Juliet's gasp rings through the air like a shot. “Goodwin Stanhope? You know Goodwin?”

Sawyer holds out his hand for the rifle. “Well, imagine that. We finally got somethin' to trade, you and me.”

She hands the weapon over, as if struggling through frozen mud. He tells her how he and Danielle had met Goodwin on his way to the Temple, how Goodwin had abandoned Juliet to Ben. She sinks to her haunches as if under a volley of blows, even though Sawyer's voice is gentle.

“So, Goldilocks,” he finishes. “Seems like your boyfriend dumped you.”

Alex shrieks like a little bird with outraged, ruffled feathers. “Your boyfriend? Goodwin was your boyfriend? He's married.

“Oopsie daisy,” Sawyer says. “Cat's outta the bag.”

“Sawyer, come on,” Hurley says.

“Nah, Hugo, I ain't gonna 'come on.' It's not like her people exactly rolled out the welcome mat when we crashed on this damned Island. Hell, they sent some baby-snatching bastard to grab Claire—“

“Ethan.” Juliet gulps, bracing herself.


“That would have been Ethan.”

Sawyer has been holding it in for awhile, and now he explodes like a bomb. “You mean you knew that son-of-a-bitch?”

Afternoon air hangs hot and still around them. Alex and Karl cling to one other now, eyes wide and mouths shut. When Juliet speaks, her words come out in distinct little croaks. “He was the one who brought me to this Island. Three years ago. All I want to do is go home.”

As one tear slides down her cheek, she wipes it with a hand so dirty it leaves a broad brown smear.

“Aw, hell,” Sawyer says.

Hurley plops himself down on a freshly-fallen tree, a casualty of the Swan station's implosion. The sun already clips the tree-tops, and it hits him how worried Claire and everyone else must be. Even though he wants to tear-ass down the well-worn path to the beach like the proverbial horse that races home to the barn, he won't allow himself. Not yet.

“Juliet,” he says as softly as he can, “You got to tell us what happened. Why you're here. Who this Ben is, and what he wants. Before we take you into our camp, you got to give us some answers. Please.”

He hands her a water bottle, and Juliet begins to speak.

* * * * * * * *

Jack comes up behind Claire and Kate and drapes an Oceanic blanket around Claire's shoulders, then reaches for Aaron. “May I?” He cradles the child in the crook of his arm, not examining him like a doctor would, just gazing at him with tenderness.

It's not lost on Kate, either. “You're good with him.”

For the first time since Hurley's been missing, Claire's heart lifts a little. She's not alone, is she? She has family: a half-brother, maybe even a great-aunt for Aaron, if Jack's mother can look beyond who Claire is, beyond the betrayal of her marriage.

When Kate leans her head on Claire's shoulder, Claire can feel her exhaustion, can see how her fire-softened eyes rest on Jack as he holds the baby who sleeps in his arms. Maybe if she's really lucky, she'll have a sister, too.

If Kate can stay out of jail, that is.

Jack clears his throat as if something has been on his mind for awhile. “Claire, I'm not saying this because I'm worried—“

“Jack, please,” Kate says. “You're worried. We all are.”

“All right.” Now he looks almost bashful. “Whatever you have waiting for you in Los Angeles, I want you to know this. If—”

Everything is dry inside Claire, inside and out. “If Hurley and Sawyer don't make it back.”

“Yes. You're welcome to stay with me. My condo's small, but I've been meaning to unload it anyway, buy a house big enough for... everyone. Everyone here.”

As scared and full of despair as Claire is, she can't help giving his sincerity a small tweak. “Don't you want to ask Kate first?”

“He has,” Kate says, the two simple words laden down with something complicated, hard to fix. “For me, well, we'll have to see what happens.”

By now everyone knows that Kate is in real trouble with the law, knows that she was the one cuffed to the long-dead marshal. Even if the man she killed had it coming, there will be a price to pay, and the only question is, how much.

“But you've got a home with me, Claire,” Jack finishes. “No matter what.”

Claire can tell how badly he wants this, how much he has riding on this double offer. “It's really sweet of you,” she starts to say, when a volley of high-pitched speech stops her flat.

It's Sun, rattling off to Jin in Korean at machine-gun speed, forgetting her vow to only use English with him. Jack rises to his feet, baby still in arms.

A small crowd has formed at the west end of the beach, where a cluster of torchlit figures rounds the curved bend.

Beside her, Claire hears Rose say, “Oh, thank God.”

The Hurley-shaped hole in Claire's life fills as his shaggy, lumbering form emerges from the shadows. Sawyer ambles alongside, talking to a woman Claire doesn't recognize. Everyone in the approaching group wears a somber air, but they don't telegraph any threat.

Claire is about to take Aaron from Jack, when his little nod says, Go on, I've got this. She moves through the crowd like the bride at the head of the procession, slowly and fixed on one person, one goal alone. He's back, alive, and the heavy weight falls from her heart as if it never was. She's so fixed on him that she doesn't even look when someone next to her says, “Are they from the tail section?” and barely hears Ana Lucia's gruff, “Never seen them before.”

When he sees her, his arms catch her up in the whirlwind of his warm, fleshy hug. He spins her in one wide circle, then another, and she clings to him, wanting never to let go, wanting it to never stop.

When it does, she runs her hands all over his face, down his breast, and it's all him, he's here, he's real and whole and all right. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches Rose beaming at her, and it shames her a little, because Rose went through this every minute of every day, for almost two months.

It's all right, though. She doesn't have to be strong in Rose's way. It's enough to be strong in her own, even if it means admitting how soft she is, how weak. As she looks up at Hurley's sweet face, his open mouth full of promise, kisses to be saved for later, not in front of the whole camp, oh no, something she's never understood becomes clear to her.

She stands with her arms around him, so glad that she could die right here on this beach, right now. She isn't weak at all. It's only in being open to someone, so open that she can't imagine her life without him, that she finds her strength.

Among the new people, no one is smiling or laughing, not even Hurley. In fact, they look like they just came from a funeral. Only the teenage girl with wild hair perks up long enough to call out, “Hey, Hurley, aren't you gonna introduce us?”

He swings his sad face towards her. “Sure, Alex.”

Through the crowd, Danielle hears her daughter's name and looks up.

* * * * * * * *

Whatever has pulled down Hurley's mood, it's cast aside in the flurry of introductions, of Danielle finding her lost daughter Alex after sixteen long, lonely years. The survivors look Juliet over with wary expressions, but she isn't alone, not with Sawyer right beside her, their heads close together.

Claire pulls Hurley over to the thicket at the edge of the forest where so long ago she read his palm: the prosperity line showing tremendous wealth, the outrageously long life line, the jagged pattern of the heart which solidified into a straight and faithful groove.

His kisses taste like sweat and tears. When she comes up for breath, he looks even sadder, and a different fear flicks through her, not of loss, but some anxious dread. Brushing back a tangled brown curl, she whispers, “What's wrong?”

He does that little shuffle, looking down at his feet instead of meeting her glance. “It's bad, Claire. Really bad.”

“What's bad? Them, the new ones?”

“Nah, they're cool. They're just on the run from Ben, that's all.”

“Oh great, they're going to lead the Others directly to us?”

“I don't think so. They snuck away. At least Danielle's found her kid.”

Frustration crackles through her like electricity. “Hurley, if something was wrong, if something is upsetting you, we talked about this—“

He flings his hands up, as if that would cast off everything, fix it. “I can't be with you, Claire. Nobody can be with each other, not here on the Island.”

“What? You can't be with me? Are you starting that again, that curse business—”

“No! We can't be together like I want to... The way I thought you wanted to, too. When you get better from the baby.”

She's far better than anyone would have thought, and had Hurley not been so sad, she would have wanted nothing more than to plump up their grass-stuffed mattress, stretch Hurley out on it and test her new body. “I don't understand. Why can't we?”

He's almost in tears now. “Juliet, she's a doctor. A baby doctor. That guy Ethan, that you and Danielle popped? He and Juliet did science-y stuff with babies. Because nobody on this Island can have them. They die.”

“Oh, bollocks,” Claire says. “Did I die? Did Danielle?”

“I asked Juliet that. She said it was because you both got pregnant off the Island. But here, it doesn't work.”

Claire has to lean on Hurley because she doesn't trust her knees to hold her up. “Oh, God, do you believe it? I mean, it's incredible—“

“Yeah, Claire, I do. I get this kind of eye twitch when people are lying. It's kind of a superpower, I guess. Probably got it from my mom.”

“What about Sun? And Faith? What's going to happen to them?”

When he doesn't look at her, she knows it's bad. Inside she hears her own mum's voice, sounding as it did before the accident put her in the coma, and her mother's words come out of Claire's mouth. “Well, we can't sit around here while the rain wrecks the hay. We've got to make sure everyone knows this.”

Hurley looks blank, so she adds, “Before people bed down for the night.”

The vision of him stretched out before her, bare and luxuriant, pops like a soap bubble.

“You got it,” Hurley says, taking her hand as they head for the crowd. “You don't wait with warnings. You warn.”


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