stefanie_bean: (hugo claire blue)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 29: Follow the River
Pairs: Hurley/Claire, Jack/Kate, Sayid/Shannon
Characters: Hugo Reyes, Claire Littleton, Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, ensemble
Genre: Slow-build Romance
Length: 3438 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 29: Follow the River

Kate wraps dried fish in leaf wrappers, while Claire arranges them neatly in her backpack. Across the camp, Danielle and Alex pass Aaron back and forth as they talk with heads close together, as if sharing a secret.

Hurley is still asleep in their tent, even though the sun is mid-morning-high.

To be honest, Claire's worried. For the past two nights, he's been racked by dreams, the kind that make a person kick in their sleep, or wake up drenched in sweat with strangled moans. By daylight he drifts about like a sleepwalker, mechanically carrying bamboo poles for Michael's raft. If he didn't so often rest his head on Claire's shoulder, eyes closed, or pass his hand tenderly over Aaron's head, she'd worry that he was upset with her.

Something inside is ripping him apart, it's plain.

He had wanted to rush off at once on their “walkabout” to find Jacob, but Kate and Jack talked him into doing a little prep first, and for that Claire is grateful. Three days later, the fish are salted and dried, ready to go.

Kate sets her knife aside. “Claire, honey, are you sure you want to do this?”

Despite her worry over Hurley, Claire has never been more sure of anything in her life. “We'll be fine.”

“From what Hurley said, it sounds like he almost died of thirst. And you...” Kate's voice trails off, clearly not wanting to offend.

“Haven't as much mass, I know.”

“I didn't mean—“

“Look, if it makes you feel better, Danielle's drawn up a map which takes us most of the way along the river. Once we leave the river-bed, Hurley's going to carry all the water.”

Kate still doesn't look convinced, and at once Claire knows that there's something else behind this. “Kate, just because you don't want to leave the Island, doesn't mean I feel that way.”

“It's not so simple.”

“It never is.” In the worst case, Kate is looking at years in prison. “Are you worried that Jack won't support you?”

“He wants to support me. He made a joke, at least he found it funny even if I didn't, about how LA was full of lawyers who could get somebody off no matter what they did. Then it hit me, Claire. Did I want to be somebody's charity case, that they 'got off no matter what?'”

“You're not his charity case. He loves you. He wouldn't offer if he didn't expect you to take him up on it.”

“That's just it. He wants me to let him put it all together, make it work.”

Claire struggles against bafflement, confusion, against not wanting come down too harsh as her mum or Lindsey often do. “Kate, I've got to ask you this. Do you love him?”

Kate hesitates, but not for lack of an answer. It's as if the wall which has kept her safe for so very long has now turned into a prison. “I do,” she finally whispers. “But I can't understand why he loves me.”

She grips Kate's arm, hard. “Don't start that tosh. Once I bought into it too, the 'Oh, he's so much more educated than me,' 'Oh, his family has a forty-meter yacht, and I'm scavenging the jumble sales to find shoes.' If you don't love him, if you don't want him, that's one thing—“

“I do love him.” It comes out in a whisper, but a strong one.

A great weight rolls off Claire. “Well, then let Jack help you. That's what people who love each other do. Look around you.”

Kenneth and Brian have worked so hard on their house, but with Karl and Shana's help, they're pulling down the roof posts to serve as the main struts for Michael's raft. Alex and Danielle have taken the baby over to Ana Lucia's tent, joined by Faith and Janice. Alex changes him, her face tender. Cindy supervises Zach and Walt as they pull coconut fibers from shells, while Emma and Libby twist the fibrous mass into long cords.

“Besides,” Claire finishes. “You were there when Aaron was born. Maybe it's selfish of me, but I want you in my life. In our lives.”

Kate wipes her eyes, trying not to let Claire know how much these words touch her. “You got your flint starter?”

“Right here.”

“Remember, dry tinder, the fluffier the better, and don't blow too hard on the spark. Just little breaths. Also, I wish you'd change your mind about taking a rifle.”

Claire wishes she could explain to Kate what she herself doesn't really understand. “We won't need it, Kate. Hurley says we have 'safe passage.'”

That stops Kate dead. “Claire, honey, I didn't want to bring this up, but there's something else that Jack... that Jack and I are worried about.”

Oh great bloody bollocks. Claire hates the snap in her voice as she says, “Just because someone's been in a sanatorium doesn't make everything they say unreliable.”

Before Kate can answer, Hurley pulls himself out of the tent, shoulders sagging under the weight of insomnia and anxiety. Claire doesn't even have time to plant a quick morning kiss on his cheek before he points to the backpack. “We can't bring any of that stuff.”

Kate's astonished “What?” collides with Claire's.

He spreads his hands in desperate appeal. “I know how this sounds, but we just can't. Obsidian knives, yeah, but none of Locke's, not even the machete. Ditto for anything from the Swan Station. Only coconut shells for water, no bottles.” Message delivered, he plops down onto a driftwood log in helpless resignation, as if he knows exactly what this sounds like.

Kate glances down by the shoreline, where Michael has neatly laid out bamboo poles and metal sheets for the raft. Desmond and Jack look over Michael's neatly-drawn schematic, along with Norris, who's a bit of an amateur boat-builder himself.

“I'm sorry, but I have to get Jack,” Kate says. “Maybe he can make you see reason.” She fixes Claire and Hurley both with a stern eye. “Don't go anywhere, either of you.”

Claire sinks down to Hurley, drawing him close. “This was in a dream, right?” Under her hands, his body vibrates not just from emotion, but as if some inner song is playing through him, using him as an instrument.

“This morning, after you got up.”

“After the crash, I had dreams, too. Terrifying ones. But when you were there right next to me, I wasn't scared any longer. Hurley, don't shut me out. Please tell me why we can't bring this stuff.”

“They said we'd have everything we needed.”

“They? You mean, this Jacob?”

“Nah, not him. Just a bunch I couldn't see. At least I argued them into one of those fire-sparky things.”

“That's good, because neither one of us can start a fire to save our necks.”

“You don't think this sounds... crazy?”

Strangely, she doesn't.

Satisfied, Hurley heaves himself to his feet and pulls her up with him.

Jack and Kate are back, and Jack doesn't waste any time, either. “I'm concerned, Hurley. Not just for you, but for Claire, and the baby.”

Tears stand in Hurley's eyes. “It's got to be this way, man, or we shouldn't even bother.”

“Then don't bother, Hurley. Help us with the raft. Or go with Norris and Sayid to the cabin of the plane to scavenge electronics. People are hammering out more metal to make bigger reflectors for the fire. You two running off into the jungle with no food or water isn't helping. Think of Claire—“

Claire braces herself against the wind of Jack's disapproval, Kate's skepticism, all the sensible rationality beaten into her head from day one. “Jack, I believe Hurley, even if I don't understand it.”

“You do?” Hurley says, his voice breaking.

“Well, I don't understand any of this,” says Jack. “How one man can keep everybody prisoner on this Island—“

“How can somebody walk after being in a wheelchair?” Claire says.

“We don't know that. All we have is Rose's word; we never got Locke's confirmation—“

“Jack,” Claire interrupts, and her tone stops him cold. “I get it, that you have to see things for yourself. But let us go. Let us find out.”

Then Jack does something she would have never expected. He draws her in against his hard chest, and he's trembling. “Come back safely,” he says to Hurley over her shoulder. “I just found my sister, and I don't want to lose her.”

“You got it, bro.”

As Jack lets her go, Claire says to Hurley, “We should fetch the baby. It's time.”

* * * * * * * *

The river makes singing sounds as it flows over mossy stones, cooling the noonday air. Claire picks her way carefully over the rocks as little breezes swirl around her legs, while Hurley thumps behind her. When they're thirsty, all they have to do is dip their shells into water clear as crystal, fresh as rain.

Northward they move, ever north. Even though the trees change from fleshy tropical to leafy thinness, even though the river widens in places and narrows in others, the slap of water on rock remains the same.

The farther they get from the beach camp, the happier Hurley seems, and all at once she understands what a torment these past few days have been. He squats by an eddy pool full of swarming fish, peering into the still waters. “Wish we could of brought a net.”

Downstream from the fish, Claire wrings out a clean diaper. “I've seen Jin catch a fish with his hands.”

“Yeah, well, that's Jin.”

She spreads the diaper on a rock to dry, then wets her hands again, just to feel the play of silken water. Overhead, the trees arch like cathedral spires. The leaves are speckled with a rainbow of different greens, and every shade has a name, even if she doesn't know them all. Half to Hurley, half to the forest she says, “What is this place?”

He's not paying attention, busy thrusting his hands into the water. Soon he's wrestling with a fish, a fat silvery one that leaps free with heart-stopping motion. He catches it on the downward arc and awkwardly pulls it to his chest, where it thrashes. If its silent, flapping mouth could scream, it would.

She and he both have watched Jin do this often, but it's still a shock when Hurley smashes the fish's head against a stone. It gives one last flop and then lies still. “Sorry, fish,” Hurley says as he slices it open with an obsidian knife.

They pick the roasted carcass down to the bones, which they cover with river sand.

When they're on the move again, reddening sunlight has already started to turn leaf above and water below to gold. She strips off her t-shirt and ties it to her head, to mop up the sweat which drenches her face. As the baby roots and nuzzles, clearly happy at unfettered access, she understands why some tribal women used to go shirtless.

After the first astonished glance, Hurley tells her the story of Jacob and his brother, as well as the story of Captain Norris. She lets it wash over her, because she trusts Hurley, and because nothing in this strange jungle seems improbable anymore.

He saves the part about Jacob's offer for last.

“Well, you obviously didn't take him up on it.” Claire's tone is light, but all the same, a small fear flicks through her. It's been a long time since she last thought she might lose him.

“He'll find somebody else.” Even though the path is wide enough for them to walk side by side, he doesn't look at her.

Will he?”

The edge in her voice brings him round, so she goes on. “After all, who wouldn't want to live for thousands of years, be invincible, never get sick or old?”

“A lot of people,” he mutters, still not meeting her eyes. “Everybody else around you would die. It would suck.”

“I guess it depends on what you think happens... afterwards. If you just wink out, then at least it puts off the inevitable.”

He turns wide, horrified eyes to her. “I want to see my abuelita y abuelito again someday. Then when my mom dies, my dad, and then...” He hesitates, not wanting to say it.

Claire doesn't want to, either. No wonder this Jacob sounds so sad and lonely. She laces her fingers through Hurley's and they walk along in easy rhythm. In his sling, the baby nestles against her bare chest, nipple partially in his mouth. After a while she asks, “Does Jacob have any children?”

He laughs without humor. “I seriously doubt it.”

“Somehow I'm not surprised.” Mum might be gorked, but Claire still looks forward to someday taking her motionless hand and running it along Aaron's skin, laying his cheek on hers so that she can hear his soft breathing. Because Mum can hear, Claire's sure of it. Even prickly-pear Aunt Lindsey will soften when she meets Aaron, not to mention Hurley. As Lindsey is fond of saying, she hates silver-tongued devils who don't know their bunghole from a wombat hole. Not Hurley, though, not by a long shot.

Maybe that day will never come to pass. But she's not ruling it out just yet.

As afternoon fades, violet and orange light edges the feather-duster leaves of a nearby coconut grove. Hurley collects armloads of palm-fronds and starts to build a lean-to under a stout bush. After lashing the baby to her back, Claire ties her knife to the end of a stick and stabs coconut crabs. At first she feels sorry for the leathery creatures as they squirm under the blade, but soon the satisfaction of the hunt drive out any regrets. She wraps twitching crab carcasses in wet banana leaves and covers them with hot ash, hair tied up out of her face.

She's so intent on roasting crabs that at first she doesn't notice Hurley staring at her. He's eating her up with his eyes, not just her breasts, but the whole sweat-soaked, ash-streaked lot of her.

He peels off his own drenched shirt and hangs it on a limb, his nipples like tender beads in the cool evening air, his flesh rich as the land around them. On a lark she pierces the first crab with her knife, and he laughs at the quick spurt of pale fluid. Before long, they're both pricking one roasted crab after another, seeing whose squirts are the longest, the juiciest, the most energetic.

Suddenly she's flushed, even a little embarrassed, because she's not used to him sitting casually shirtless in front of a camp-fire. The crabs are drippy, and when crab-juice rolls down the curve of his chest, she leans over to lick a few of the droplets off. He tastes like seafood and ash and good, clean sweat, and she wants him more than she ever has.

The lean-to is clever: thick layers of dried palm-fronds all snug under a canopy of fresh ones. The sleepy baby doesn't stir when Claire hangs up the podegai with him in it between two branches. She wedges in a few big palm leaves to form a screen in front of the baby's hammock-bed. Once down, Aaron will stay out like a light for four, maybe five hours.

The only sounds are the soft hum of cicadas, birds saying good night to one another, and the lazy slap of river-water on stone. She's drowsy and full, but not too sleepy to reach for Hurley. He fills her arms with naked flesh and her mouth with kisses: big sloppy ones that drench the smile she couldn't wipe off her face even if she tried.

She loves how she curves around him, now that there's no longer any baby in between them. It's as if he's the one who wears the pregnancy, by the way his big body fills the space between them. She grabs his sides and pulls him in closer, but he pauses, as if suddenly aware of his overwhelming size, unsure.

“I guess I kinda overdid it at supper,” he whispers.

What's he talking about? Oh, that again, the old self-consciousness. Into his ear she murmurs, “You feel wonderful.”

It's only when he lets his muscles go slack that she knows how much he had been holding back, how restrained he was. She strokes his body to life, on fire now, her cleft wet as that river. As she slides up against his loose belly, she leaves snail-slick trails along his skin. He thrusts long and hot against her thigh, and it would take only a simple twist of the hips for her to slide right on down.

It's been so long since either of them have had any release. He's left a long wet trail of his own along her leg, as that pulsing tip silently pleads to be let in, wants to fill her with firm plump flesh that spurts hot and wet, and maybe it will be a little girl this time—

They pull back at the same instant. He mutters, “Oh, my God, Claire, I don't think I can.”

“Can what?” She has to fight to keep her voice low, to avoid crying out with frustration.

“Do that thing, you know, where you pull out. Right before.”

No, her flesh cries out. No, no, no. “You don't have to.”

“But what if—“

“Would it be so bad?” Suddenly she knows down in her gut that she believes him about the Swan Station, how its destruction freed them all. That even if they're stuck on this Island for good, she won't die. A fundamental truth presses on her, big as Hurley. It's not belief until blood is on the line.

His voice is thick as the erection which presses against her, hotter and wetter than before. “It would be awesome.”

“That it would,” she says. Her words seem to inflame him, making every part of him heavy with blood: his swollen cheeks, his breasts, the excitement that makes him tremble all over.

She's on a roll now, his body beneath her soft and yielding as a waterbed. As she lowers herself on him a tiny bit, he tries to thrust upward into her, but she pulls away. “Shhh, lie still.” When he's quiet again, she strokes him again with her wet opening, her slick, welcoming thighs.

Swollen with heat and desire, he begs her in hoarse whispers, “Oh, Claire, please. Please.”

“I might grow a baby. Your baby.”

Now he has to stifle a groan, and she's afraid he'll explode before she's ready.

“Say that's what you want, or I won't go on,” she whispers. “Say it.”

“I swear I'll be there, Claire. Whatever you need. I promise.”

Slippery as warm butter she slides down onto him, then pins his arms. He could up-end her in a second if he wanted, but he lies beneath her, heavy and passive. As she swings her hips in slow, lazy arcs, he sweats and pants and she can't get enough of him. In her mind she sees herself softened by another child, breasts like melons, weighted by a burgeoning belly, but she's not the only one juicy with fertility.

When he finally spurts inside her, it feels as if it will never stop. He's drowning her from the inside, making her overflow, she's never felt so much semen in her life, and it's hot, hot as fever, full of life and power.

There's no turning away from it. Her body's going to be broken again, opened and split. Bred. Fertilized, cared for and cultivated by her husband, flesh surging out of control once more, and Claire has never been more willing to let go. He takes her breasts in hand to tweak her nipples, and she imagines them twice as big, twice as full of milk for two babies instead of one. She knows she's a good breeder, this is what she was born to do with this man, in this now, and her orgasm hits her so hard she almost topples over.

Afterward, he kisses the top of her head and rocks her in the cradle of his arms while she whispers, “Hurley,” over and over. His name in her mouth feels as good as his flesh. When he speaks low into her ear, each breath sends a shudder through her down to the core, and no “I love you” has ever sounded so sweet.


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