stefanie_bean: (hugo claire blue)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 30: Green Mansions
Pairs: Hurley/Claire, Jack/Kate, Sayid/Shannon
Characters: Hugo Reyes, Claire Littleton, Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, ensemble
Genre: Slow-build Romance
Length: 3626 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 30: Green Mansions

A river cuts through the land the way currents of feeling carve their paths through the heart. Sometimes water tumbles with passion, and other times it lies still, its glossy surface disguising the depths beneath.

Hurley stands bare and waist-deep in a tidal pool, bathed in morning light. He splashes Claire's slippery wetness from his body, the echo of her flesh still ringing along the length of his own.

Awake now, she peeps out of their lean-to as sunlight plays over her bare skin. The baby in her arms looks like a little golden doll, his fuzzy head lit up with a sun-halo.

Hurley tingles under her gaze, at the pleasure and love in her eyes. Never in a million years did he think he could stand before a girl like this, especially under trees and open sky. This pool on the river's edge might as well be one room among many in a great green mansion set up just for them.

“You want to take him, so I can have a dip?” She never leaves the baby alone anywhere, not for a second.

“Sure. Let me get dried off first.” It's like the child is part of her body now, and his, as they pass him and forth between them. He mops up quickly, then takes Aaron into his arms.

“We should get there today, right?”

“Yeah, probably. Gotta check the map in a bit.”

She sinks underwater and then breaks the glassy surface like a seal, dark-gold hair streaming over her shoulders. The sweet blade of her smile slices him into two quivering parts. One wants to forge on, to confront Jacob about leaving the Island. The other wants to seize her in his arms along with Aaron, and run right back to the beach camp as fast as he can.

The morning breeze isn't all that makes him shiver. Change is in the wind. Change he can't imagine, although he can sense it massing in the green jungle, and Hurley hates change.

That's not true, he tells himself. More change has come to him in the past three months than he could ever imagine, most of it pretty good. Yet all of that is nothing compared to what looms on the horizon.

If Claire feels the same way, she doesn't let it show. After they dress, she roasts jack-fruit seeds in the fire, and they pop them into their mouths one by one like beer nuts. He traces the river on the map with his finger, telling himself that he's squirrely from low blood sugar and little sleep, from missing their snug bed. He has to fight his own tendency to over-think everything: what if they can't find Jacob? What if he says no? What if Jacob was lying about the Swan and women again being able to have babies on the Island? What if, what if, what if?

There are no dishes to wash, at least. The lean-to stands ready and waiting for anyone else who might come by, and off they go.

Onward the river flows, twisting in its bed like a snake, not straight the way Rousseau drew it on the map. Day turns from cool gold to molten. The land angles upwards, while the river's edge fills with jagged rocks. They climb alongside small waterfalls, each one steeper and swifter than the last.

Claire stops, tired and clearly worried. “I'm so hot.”

She doesn't dare step in the swiftly-moving water with the baby, so he fills a coconut shell and pours it over her head. After she's soaked, she drinks one shell full after another while Aaron nurses and Hurley frets.

What the hell has he gotten them into? Never mind that this was her idea; what business did he have going along with it?

Soon they come to the steepest waterfall of all, a good thirty feet of tumbled stone. According to the map, they should be veering west, to the left. No way, though, because the leftward path is blocked by a sheer rock face. Neither of them could scale it, and even if they could, a jagged lip hangs over the top, covered with snarled roots and vines.

To the right, a faint path veers off in a gentle rise. Claire says, “If we take it slow, we can probably make it to the top.”

Her calm tone takes Hurley down a notch or two. If she were to panic, he doesn't know what he'd do.

“Maybe after we get to the top, we can ford the river and double back,” she adds.

Ford the river, yeah, right. He could carry Claire and Aaron both on his back, but one slip and they'd all go right over that waterfall.

Crap, crap, crap. Don't show it. Don't let her see how you feel. Don't—

At once her hand slips into his, just like so long ago when he worked up the nerve to ask her to go on that first walk, when one thing led to another, setting their feet on the path which led them here. “It'll be all right, Hurley.”

He wants to believe her more than anything. “Here, let me carry the little guy for a while.”

The path side-winds through a dry woodland dotted with broken boulders, and Claire loses her exhausted look. Hurley can still hear the river, far away like a friend's fading goodbye.

The plan to circle back left falls through, because thick, impassable bushes have grown in between the boulders. He studies the map again, fighting a returning panic. If they keep going this way, they'll wind up in the region called “Le Territoire Foncé.” The Dark Territory, Rousseau called it. Just what they need right now.

Claire peers at the map. She doesn't say anything, but she doesn't have to.

“I guess we're kinda off-road,” he finally admits.

The choices are stark: either forward or back. Okay, forward then, and now the land seems to lead them along. The smooth path winds through thinning trees, until they stand at the forest's edge.

Before them spreads a wide meadow covered in blue flowers, as if chips of sky were scattered across the green ground. In the middle of this blue expanse, a man-sized blur of bright white moves in time to an unheard rhythm. As his hoe rises and fall, both his tunic and light hair gleam in the sun.

Claire tugs on Hurley's sleeve. “Who is that?”

He wraps her in a protective arm, his heart glad that they won't have to scale some scrubby cliff-side with the baby. In her ear he whispers, “It's all good, Claire,” then waves and shouts, “Yo, Jacob!”


* * * * * * * *


To Claire, it feels like it takes a long time to cross the flax field, where Jacob rests on his hoe, waiting. The sun has robbed him of all color, leaving him bleached. Surely he must have seen women and kids before, but his up-and-down gaze makes it seem as if he never has. She watches him, guarded.

“Hey, Jacob,” Hurley says. “This is Claire, and Aaron.”

Again that slow regard from under hooded blue eyes. After the briefest of nods to her, he says to Hurley, “Nice touch there, with the pilot.”

Hurley shrugs, as if he had nothing to do with the extraordinary transformation, had no hand in the newly-safe jungle.

When Claire begins to sway a little in the afternoon heat, Hurley says, “You got any water, dude? I wouldn't bug you, except for that thing with no water bottles—“

“No water bottles?” Jacob looks confused.

“Yeah, didn't you say—?”

A faint smile brushes his face, then disappears. “Why would I have told you not to bring water bottles?”

So who did, then? Claire thinks as she tugs on Hurley's sleeve. “I've got to get the baby out of the sun.”

“Of course,” Jacob says. “Right this way.”

Jacob leads them to a cool, shady clearing on the other side of the field, where by a bubbling blue pool stands a cabin with a wide front porch and a cedar-shake roof. A lantern hangs on a nail by the front door. Nearby, at the forest's edge, there rests a large wooden barn.

“I thought you lived up on the mountainside,” Claire says. “But you have more than one cabin, it seems.”

“Just one,” Jacob says.

She doesn't bother to ask for an explanation. The more she tries to suppress her questions, the more they struggle for release, like a cat stuffed in a pillowcase.

They sit on the shaded front porch while breezes swirl around them. The clay mug which Jacob hands Claire looks hand-fired, and the cold water fills her with energetic life. The baby latches on, content. It doesn't matter to him where he is, as long as he has his mum.

Jacob is the last to settle himself into a bamboo chair. “So, Hurley, have you changed your mind?”

She will bite her tongue off at the roots before answering for Hurley, even though she sends a surge of No, no, no in his direction. Then she remembers what Hurley said, that Jacob seems to be able to read at least some thoughts.

Her yoga teacher used to talk about no-mind, complete emptiness. Claire was good at it, too, never falling asleep during the meditation sessions as so many others did. Now she lets herself fall into that composure, smoothing the rough edges of her thoughts into a glassy surface.

Jacob blinks a little, as if being shut out surprises him.

Hurley doesn't seem to notice this silent battle of wills. “No, dude, haven't changed my mind.”

“Well,” Jacob says.

If no one else is going to get to the point, that leaves Claire. This isn't exactly a social call, is it now? “Jacob, we're ... I'm asking you to let us go. Home, I mean.”

“You think I'm keeping you here?”

“If what you told Hurley is true, I know you are.”

“You haven't exactly tried hard to get rescued. Maybe you don't want to leave as much as you think you do.”

This stops her cold. Until Juliet had come on the scene with her horrific news, no one had bothered to build a raft, or cobble together more electronics, or keep the signal fire going. Then a thought bubbles up, one she almost can't bear. For the first time his blond, stubbly face fills her with dislike.

“Did you... bring us here? On purpose?” It doesn't matter anymore how that could even happen.

Jacob hesitates exactly one heartbeat, and that's all the answer she needs. “Yes, I did.”

“Why would you do that?” She wants to spring to her feet, pace around the creaky porch, maybe even bring her hand down on the banister rail in a hard smack, but the child pins her to her seat. He needs her to be quiet, rested, calm, and his needs come first.

Hurley has no such small but powerful weight on his lap. His face reddens and his eyebrows contract into a dark cloud across his face. When he speaks, his voice is flat, subdued. “There were like 250 people who didn't make it. We found their stuff, read their names.”

In her head, Claire multiplies numbers, figuring ten, twenty people for each one who died: the ones who lived to mourn their deaths. The friends who'd never call again. The old people who outlived their grown children. Spouses waking up to an empty bed, the kids without a mum or dad. Thousands of people, all mourning the lost of Oceanic 815.

Throw a stone into a pond, and the water doesn't stay there. Instead it radiates outward, touching everything in its wake.

She can't hold in the sadness any longer. If Jacob can read thoughts, let him read this one. The lacy, frilly photograph album is filled with images of a young couple, newly engaged. Claire can't remember their names, but she does recall the young man's dark hair and wide grin, the girl's tongue poking out in one picture, the couple's two tongues touching in another.

Gone, dead, because Jacob brought them here. Message received, it looks like, because he flinches.

Claire can't hide the faint growl in her voice. “There had better be a damned good reason. At least you owe us that.”

“Claire— “ Hurley starts to say.

“Don't 'Claire' me,” she snaps at Hurley. “What is it you do here, Jacob? And why don't you want to do it any longer?”

His words come out simple and plaintive, a child who has played outside too long and hard on a blistering-hot winter's day. “Because I'm tired.”

Suddenly the dark cloud around Hurley is gone. “Aw, man, why don't you take a load off, then? Come down to the beach with us, hang back.”

At first, resistance rises up inside Claire, then vanishes at the sight of Hurley's open face. All at once her future with this man spreads out before her: every lost puppy or kitten, every sad, friendless, or stranded soul that washes up onto his wide shore will get drawn into that all-enveloping embrace.

This is why Jacob wanted him.

Surprisingly, Jacob shakes his head. “I can't do that.”

“Come on, dude. Juliet's told people about you. Don't be shy.”

Jacob hesitates, and at once Claire knows why he looks so far-away, so lost. That's raw hunger in his eyes, for a seat in front of the camp-fire, a place in the circle. How long has he been alone on this Island?

“I'm sorry,” Jacob says. “What I can do, though, is invite you to supper.”


* * * * * * * *


That night, full of coconut curry stew, Claire stretches out with Hurley and the baby on the barn's threshing floor, on a flax-straw mattress as comfortable as their own. The long walk has left Claire exhausted, but not as much as the mostly strained, silent atmosphere over dinner. Jacob obviously has lost his touch at the art of conversation, if he ever had it at all.

Sleepy, Hurley cuddles her from behind and murmurs, “What's his deal, you think?”

It hits Claire like a light switching on. “Seth. He doesn't want to see Seth Norris.”

“Hmm?” He nuzzles her hair, almost asleep.

“For fear of reminding him.”

Too late, because his faint snore tells her he's already asleep. Soon she follows, and when she does, she dreams.

She's standing at the entrance to the caves, but they look nothing like they did when Jack tried so hard to get everyone to live there. Instead of dank gloom, soft yellow torch light fills every cranny. The waterfall's low slap plays a soft beat in the background.

The largest chamber is filled with colored fibers, all neatly coiled in baskets. In their midst, a young dark-skinned woman about Claire's age works at a loom. Her neatly-braided cornrows are set with tiny beads which glimmer deep blue in the torchlight. She moves her shuttle back and forth, forth and back with a rhythmic, hypnotizing motion.

On the loom, a florid sun spreads its rays in every direction. Below, a crowd of people are drawn like children's stick figures, with no features or sex. They reach up to grasp the sun's rays, but only one of the figures has actually caught one. That one person seems to cling to the ray for dear life, as it lifts them off their feet skyward.

“What are you weaving?” Claire wants to know.

The woman's smile is deep as the forest, and her dark brown eyes shine. “Jacob's dreams. And my mother's.”

“Maddie?”

In the distance a baby whimpers, then starts to cry. Claire lurches into wakefulness, to find Hurley walking the fussy baby. As soon as Aaron sees her, he settles down with a few indignant sniffles.

The baby is fresh and dry, just unsettled. “Thanks for changing him, Hurley. Come here, Cuddlepot.”

As she snuggles down with Hurley one side, Aaron on the other, the dream still haunts her. If she were back in their tent, she'd grab her journal and write it down, as she has so many others. That only preserves a hint of a dream's flavor, though, just like pressing flowers. What results can be beautiful, but whether dream or flower, only a hint of the original remains. Sometimes, though, what's left has a stark, suggestive beauty of its own.

The next morning, Jacob hands them two water-bags made of fish skin. Silvery and supple, they have no fishy smell whatever, and the water inside is as sweet and fresh as if it came directly from the spring's pool.

Jacob points to a path that winds eastward from the clearing. “Go that way instead of the river. It'll be faster.”

Claire can tell that Hurley doesn't want to pester Jacob any more than she does. They've come all this way, though, and she can't simply sit by and let their trip all have been for nothing.

Finally she screws up her courage. “So, what about letting us leave, then? At the beach we're building a raft. But you probably know that. Just like I know that you could make it work for us, if you wanted to.”

Jacob nods, head bowed as if a world of sadness rested on it. At once, Claire knows without being told that dreams have also racked his sleep.

“There's something I have to see to first.” The finality in his tone says that they aren't to ask what.

Claire has had enough of this god-business to last a lifetime.


* * * * * * * *


Jacob's path takes them through an ancient forest of the biggest, oldest trees Claire has ever seen on the Island. Even Hurley couldn't reach around their great trunks, if their trunks could be found at all underneath shaggy overcoats of creepers and vines. The forest floor stays cool and shaded even at midday, as only tiny speckles of sky light can fall through the vast green screen overhead.

They drink as much as they want from their water-bags, which never seem to empty. Even when Claire wets a rag to clean the baby, water keeps pouring as if it would never end. Aaron coos and giggles, smiling up at her with eyes of pure blue love.

He'll let Hurley carry him now, so Hurley tucks him under his arm like a football, pretends to toss him until Claire cries out, laughing, for him to stop. Then he swoops the baby to and fro, making airplane-like whooshing noises.

When they break through a screen of trees to see Sun's garden, they know they're back. Coral-pink late afternoon light floods rows of taro and banana plants as tall as Claire herself.

The garden stands empty, though. The usual crew of late-afternoon garden helpers are nowhere to be seen. It's bad enough to come back empty-handed, but this— A tiny worm of anxiety turns within Claire, and it's clear Hurley feels it, too.

It gets worse as they approach the beach. Shouts ring out from the trees, and soon Sun, Jin, and Juliet thunder up the garden path, and Juliet and Jin have rifles. When Jin raises his, Claire ducks behind Hurley, sheltering the baby with her body and hating herself for her cowardice.

Hurley isn't fazed, though. “Hey, guys, what's up?”

Jin lets fly a volley of Korean as Sun motions to him to lower his rifle.

Juliet's voice is calm, but her eyes are wild. “Rose and Bernard went missing early this morning. Jack set up a perimeter, and the three of us have been keeping watch on the west.”

“I glimpsed something in the garden,” Sun says.

“Others.” Jin spits the word out. “Others took them.”

It sounds incredible to Claire. After all this time, no one from Juliet's old group has bothered them.

Hurley fixes Juliet with a skeptical expression. “You know that for sure, dude?”

The cool precision of her answer doesn't cover the rage in her eyes. “Who else?”

“I am so glad that you are safe,” Sun says to Claire. She is too polite to blurt out the one question on everyone's mind.

“Let's fan out and search again,” Juliet says. “If you two have come this far, you can probably make your way safely back to the beach.”

Sun glances at Juliet as if apologizing for her. “She has been under a lot of stress.”

Claire isn't ready to leave yet, even though Juliet clearly wants to take her group on yet another patrol. “Sun, what happened?”

“Rose was up earlier than usual. She took her bucket and knife for mussels, Bernard at her side. They went further east than anyone has, until they rounded the point and Jin could no longer see them.”

“I fish with net. Call them to come back, too far, they say no. Say they want walk.” Jin rolls his eyes at this foolishness. Who would walk along the dawn shoreline when they could be fishing?

“After an hour or so, Desmond and Rousseau went after them but found nothing, not even their buckets. Teams have been searching all day.”

“Which is what we need to do,” Juliet says.

Hurley and Claire watch their tense, anxious backs disappear beyond the garden's edge.

“Well, crap,” Hurley finally says.

Claire takes a deep swallow from her water bag, then stops in surprise. The bag is empty, for the first time since they left Jacob's cabin.

Hurley's is the same. In the hot sun, the water bags shrivel into thin, brittle fish skin. The flakes crumble between their fingers and blow away in the breeze.

(continued)


(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-13 11:17 pm (UTC)
desdemonaspace: (Quetzal)
From: [personal profile] desdemonaspace
So Smokey isn't contained after all, if someone pretending to be Jacob told them they couldn't bring water bottles?

I love how lyrical your writing is. Have you thought about writing original fiction and getting published? You're that good.

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