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Title: Xanadu
Chapter 2 Title: And a Welcome One
Chapter 2 Length: 1821 words
Characters: Hugo "Hurley" Reyes, Claire Littleton, Kate Austen, James "Sawyer" Ford, John Locke
Pairing: Hurley/Claire
Rating: T
Notes: Takes place during "Eggtown," 4x04.

Summary: Hurley and Claire get to know each other better as they watch the cult favorite, "Xanadu."

Chapter Index


Chapter 2: And a Welcome One

Claire sat cross-legged on the master bedroom floor, while Aaron slept on a soft, dark blue blanket, secure in his wash basket. The walls hemmed her in, and briefly she wished she could join Danielle Rousseau in her solitary camp at the jungle's edge, right outside the Barracks.

She paced the room for awhile like a trapped animal, then peered out the rear window. Out in the darkness a tiny spark flickered: Rousseau's fire. Claire had a wild urge to grab Aaron, stuff a few nappies into her backpack, and flee.

That was crazy, though. What would she do in the forest with a baby? Anyway, Rousseau would probably just drive her away. Rousseau had gotten what she wanted, a reunion with her long-lost daughter Alex, as well as a new son too: Alex's gawky, endearing lover Karl. They were a family now, and she, Claire, would just get in the way. As she always had, starting as the child her mother hadn't planned for or wanted, but had kept anyway. Now, here she was herself, mother to a similarly unexpected child.

Not unwanted, though. Not anymore.

The baby's little back made the blanket rise up and down with tiny breathing movements. Claire felt connected to Aaron's small body by invisible webs, and she would have known whether he was breathing or not, even without looking at him.

The bedrooms were stuffy, but Kate and Claire kept the windows shut because the rusted screens were full of holes. If they opened them, the rooms soon filled with moths, their fat, furry bodies thicker than Claire's thumb.

Maybe the Others hadn't minded the bugs. Claire didn't, either, not outside at least. But in the house, their trapped beating against the walls and windowpanes filled her with anxiety. She rested her face up against the night-cooled glass, and her breath smudged the window with a foggy stain.

Kate had said not to go to bed yet, but why? The flannel sheets sat in their basket, waiting to be cut up. Claire didn't blame Kate for running over to Sawyer's, though. Whatever daft idea Locke had, Sawyer wasn't going to let Kate go. And if Locke was stupid enough to push it, he would have a fight on his hands.

"Oh, bloody hell," Claire said, fogging the window once more.

Someone knocked on the door, and not politely or softly, either. She jumped, and her heart gave a loud hard bang. She had to get out of here. She could just tie the baby around herself, throw open the window, and disappear into the night, before John hammered down the front door and got to her.

The bangs came again, three times, insistent.

My God, he was going to break the damn door frame. She tried to open the window, but the latch was stuck. In movies people wrapped cloths around their fists and smacked the glass, but Claire hadn't the first idea how to do that, and anyway, the shards might hit the baby.

The front of the house fell silent, and Claire let out a long breath. Maybe John had gone away. What was a lock on a door, when you think about it? Especially doors like these, flimsy as plywood. A lock was an idea, nothing more, yet one that worked, because John hadn't barged in. So far.

Claire poked her head out of the bedroom.

The whole front of the house shook with a bang so strong it rattled the window glass. Claire darted back into the bedroom, thinking furiously. She should have followed her first impulse, and gone to Rousseau. Maybe if she begged, Rousseau would take her back to the beach. Because Claire certainly couldn't find her way there herself, and it was a long enough trek as it was.

Maybe she could face Locke, though. He couldn't be enough of a monster to hurt her, could he? Not with the baby, surely.

She started for the door when another bang came, this time followed by a voice.

"Claire?" Hugo called out. "Are you in there? Are you okay?"

The shock almost sent her to her knees. Trying to keep the laughter and relief out of her voice, she called out, "Yeah, Hurley, I'm here. Just a sec."

* * * * * * * *


When Claire opened the door, Hugo noticed that she looked paler than usual. Her hair was mussed, and faint blue shadows smudged the tender skin beneath her eyes.

"Quick, get in before the moths,” she said.

He had to squeeze through the narrow opening to avoid shoving her into the wall. When he turned the lock, the VHS tape flew out of his hand and clattered to the floor. He retrieved it, handing it to her like a present.

"What's this?"

"I watched the first fifteen minutes. Then Kate came over. And she, uh, and I thought, well, maybe. If you haven't already seen it, I mean."

His heart sank when she didn't say anything at first. Despair drilled into his breastbone as Claire opened the case with a curious expression. He leaned over to get a peek for himself at something written in permanent marker on the case's inside. "To Jules, with love from Tom."

Hugo remembered the stocky man with the fake beard on the Pala Ferry dock. "I think I know who Tom is. But who's Jules?"

Claire shrugged and rolled her eyes as if to say that they were Others; who could understand them?

Maybe this situation could be salvaged. "She's Australian," Hugo said, wondering if it would help. Even though her living room was exactly the same size as his and Sawyer's, he felt too big, out of place, as if he might knock over a piece of furniture without even trying. She hadn't invited him to sit down, and so he stood there, trying to wipe the stupid grin off his face and failing.

"Australian?" Claire's expression softened a bit, and she almost laughed. "She's not exactly the real thing, I'd say."

Hugo felt stupider than before, if that were even possible. "What?"

"You know, a native. Mum, my grandparents, their people went back to transport days.” There was real pride in her voice. "Olivia Newton-John, though, she's really a Pom. Um, sorry. British."

Hugo almost said, Like Charlie, but held his tongue.

"No matter,” she said. “Oz is full of people who think they're from down under, just 'cause they live there a few years. We're used to it." The bright wide smile was back. Her face didn't look so tired, nor did the shadows under her eyes seem so blue.

"Yeah, LA's like that, too. Everybody's from somewhere else."

She sat down, and so he figured it was all right to do the same.

"You, too?"

"Nah, I was born in LA."

"Um.” She rested her hands on her knees and fell silent.

Her still form unnerved him. "Where's Aaron?"

"In the bedroom, sleeping. It's kind of weird, knowing he's in another room. Not being next to him, you know?"

He didn't, but he smiled just the same, and lifted the paper bag. "I brought popcorn. If you wanna watch the movie."

"I wondered what that bag was."

"I'd of made it, but there was no oil at our house. No butter, either. I think the woman who lived there was on a diet or something."

The kernels rattled as she took the bag from him and headed for the kitchen. "Well, there's a bit of butter here. Might as well use it before it goes over. And oil, too, a whole bottle. You want me to do the honors?"

Hugo shifted a bit, embarrassed. "I'm, uh, kinda used to the microwave stuff."

"It's easy. I'll show you how."

He followed her into the kitchen, where there were way less china plates and knick-knacks than in his. Claire poured a little oil into a heavy saucepan, then covered the bottom with kernels.

He looked in, and gave a small frown. "That's not very much." As soon as he said it, he braced for the small stiff retort, the reminder that he didn't need that much popcorn anyway.

Claire just smiled. "You'd be surprised. A little goes a long way." She shook the pan back and forth, hands holding the lid down in a firm grip. "We used to make this over an open fire all the time. When I went to camp."

"Camp?"

"Up by Brisbane. They have huge forests, a lot like here. Full of creepers and ferns and things."

"So, Crocodile Dundee camp, huh?"

She tossed her head and rolled her eyes at the mention of the Australian movie action hero. "Without the crocs, though. Can't have the whole Year Eight eaten on holiday, can we? Too many distressed mums."

He couldn't have found Brisbane on a map to save his neck, had no idea what a Year Eight was, or why Crocodile Dundee put that small scoff in her voice, but she was still smiling, so he didn't care. The popcorn started to sputter, first in a few random bursts and then a volley. Claire kept shaking the pan until the popping had mostly stopped.

"Awesome," Hugo said as he lifted the lid.

"No, wait!”

It was too late. Popped kernels shot right into his face, and a few even stuck to his hair.

"Silly, you've got to wait a moment or two till it's all done." She stood on tiptoe to pick off the white fluff, her face so close that he could see the pearly gold of her lashes, smell the toothpaste-mint of her breath. When she pulled back, the worry started up in him again. What was he doing here, anyway? That look couldn't have meant what he thought it did. Ridiculous, right? But deep down he knew it wasn't ridiculous at all.

She waved her hand around the kitchen. "I'll go put the tape on. Maybe you can get creative and jazz up that popcorn a bit."

Hugo melted butter, then found Parmesan cheese and onion powder. He squashed them both over the popcorn, then threw on a bit of parsley for good measure. The rich buttered smell filled the small house.

When he brought his bounty into the living room, the lights were turned lower than before. She had rewound the tape, which he'd forgotten to do. He set the overflowing popcorn bowl on the coffee table between them, telling himself that's why he struck out with women. All these simple things went right by him. There were so many to remember; how could he even know where to start?

Claire didn't seem to care, though. She perched on the other side of the couch, not too close, not too far away, leaving a space the size of a small child between them.

Controller in hand, she said, "Ready?"

(continued)


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