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Title: Xanadu
Chapter 3 Title: Suspended in Time
Chapter 3 Length: 2527 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. Complete.

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


Chapter 3: Suspended in Time

Hugo didn't pay that much attention to the movie at first. Sure, the girls' legs looked great, and Olivia Newton-John's magical girl Kira roller-skated like a graceful fish sliding through water. Her lithe body reminded him of Claire's. Things got psychedelic pretty fast, though.

Claire brought them some water, then plopped down a little closer to him, their knees almost touching.

When the Pan-Pacific Auditorium came on-screen, Hugo said, “I know that place.”

She stopped the tape. Encouraged, Hugo went on. "I was just a kid. My Grandpa Tito was working at these houses up by Beverly Hills, and after school I'd go along. To, you know, get stuff from the truck, things like that. It was late, and we were just finishing up when the whole sky filled up with black smoke. There were so many sirens, it sounded like the Martians were landing."

From the hillside which overlooked the LA. basin, the red-black column had grown larger and more fierce. Might as well wait, Grandpa Tito had said. There would be no getting through the traffic. They sat down on the coarse sedge grass, and the owner of the house joined them. By the time the sun went down, nothing but a yellow and red glow remained.

“Can you believe I wanted to drive over there and look? Man, was I a dumb kid."

"Was anybody hurt?"

"I dunno. It was probably empty."

"That's sad. Such a pretty building." She snuggled a bit closer as she started up the tape. He very badly wanted to put his arm around her, but debated about it so hard with himself that he sat stiff and unmoving. When Kira's father Zeus told her that she couldn't stay with Sonny, but could have one last evening with him, he felt Claire's deep sigh all through his own body. He was afraid to look over at her, though, for fear she'd scoot away.

Then it was over. Because the music was so awesome, they watched the credits till the screen turned blue, then turned to each other. As if reading each other's thoughts they both said at once, "Did you—" and "I don't—" and "What just happened there?"

"Didn't Kira just, uh, beam up to the mother ship or something?" Hugo said, confused. "So how could she—"

"That waitress was supposed to be her, right? But I thought she couldn't stay with Sonny."

"Well, maybe she broke the rules."

"What rules?"

"Remember that song, where they were in disco Mt. Olympus? Her mom said something about breaking the rules."

Claire frowned, still trying to piece it together. "I thought that was supposed to be just for one night. But then again, her mum and dad didn't have much of a sense of time, did they?"

Hugo shrugged, trying to hide his embarrassment. "Sorry it was so dumb."

"Dumb?" Claire looked surprised. "I loved it."

"You did?" He was genuinely surprised himself, as well as relieved.

"Sure. Yeah, I know it was crazy. Like that cowboy bit, where did that come from? But Sonny was so sweet. And I'm glad they got to be together in the end." As she reached for the popcorn bowl, the space between them shrank to nothing.

She dug around in the remains of the popcorn. "Nothing but old maids left. It was a real feast, Hurley. Delicious."

"I could make some more.”

"I'm full."

Since the fast-rewind button on the controller didn't work, she glided across the room to manually rewind the tape. Something inside told him that she wouldn't be back to snuggle up close on the couch like before.

She crouched by the television for a moment, still fiddling with it. "You know, this movie. It's a lot like us."

Something leaped up inside Hugo. Had she really said that, or was it just what he wanted to hear? "Us?" he said, mouth dry.

"Yeah, you know. How all kinds of weird stuff keeps happening in the movie, for no reason. One strange thing after another. Nobody ever wants an explanation. By the end, it's gotten so wacky, nobody even notices any more. Like crazy has become the new normal. It's like that for all of us, on this island."

"Right.” He fought hard against crushing disappointment, and lost.

"Like when the television starts talking to Sonny. You think he'd scream and run out of there. But he doesn't."

Hugo's mind raced like a steeplechase over hills and downs. He hated it when that happened, because it usually took him someplace he didn't want to go. If he said too much, all his too-close familiarity with delusion would come out. In a hesitant voice he said, "Maybe when things get just a little bit trippy, you freak out. But then when things get so freaky—"

"Yes! You just learn to live with it. Like, how weird is it that we're sitting here in a house with electricity, eating popcorn, watching television?"

He didn't want to say it, didn't want to allude to it in the slightest, but it bubbled out anyway. "Hey, Claire." His rough low voice made her look at him with surprise. "Did you ever feel, uh, that you were in a play? You know, on-stage? That things just weren't, um, what they seemed?"

He knew it must have sounded like babble to her when she said in a tentative voice, "Uh, no. Not really. Not unless I was in one." Instead of coming back to the couch, she grabbed the popcorn bowl and their the water glasses, saying in a distracted voice, "No use leaving this about."

He wanted to follow her into the kitchen, but didn't. Anything he said at this point would make him sound like a lunatic. Once the thoughts got going, they were impossible to shut up.

You sound like a lunatic because you are, they told him. If you tell her, she'll throw you out. You better punt, you sad sack, just like you did when you told Libby that stupid story about breaking your hip. That was rich. You saw Libby's face, dumb-ass. She didn't believe you for a second.

Hugo argued back. He would tell her, he promised himself. Just not right now. Not tonight. Tomorrow, or the day after. By next week at the latest. Because they would probably be here for awhile. Those guys on the Not-Penny's-Boat would come and get what they wanted, then go. That's what they were supposed to be doing in the Barracks hiding from rescue. Take it slow. Tell her in a few days. After all, they had time, right?

All he could say when he went into the kitchen was, "So, you were in plays?"

She ran water in the kitchen sink, glad to be asked. "Just supporting roles in community theater. Not the big time." Then, with only a trace of defensiveness, "It's where I met Thomas. Aaron's father."

She had never mentioned him before, not to anyone as far as Hugo knew, and another pang went through him. This was different than the fear that she wouldn't like him, or would find him ridiculous, or that sooner or later he was going to have to tell her about his hospitalization.

It almost killed him to bring it up, but he had to. While it might not have mattered to Charlie, it did to him. "Was Thomas... do you think he's, you know... Are you two still—" He couldn't finish the question, as much as he tried.

The knife-sharp edge in her voice startled him. "He threw me out. I never saw him again, if that's what you mean."

"I'm sorry.” Not as sorry for having brought it up, because the look she turned on him was pure blue arctic ice.

"I'm not."

Hugo didn't want to step in any deeper. "You know, maybe I should—"

She touched his arm in the same spot Kate had, but her touch was nothing like Kate's. The electric thrill went up and down the whole side of his body, and he stood riveted by her grip. He couldn't have moved if he tried.

"No, please. I'm just touchy about it, you know?" She gazed down at the beige linoleum floor, avoiding his eyes.

He was just about to take her delicate face in his hand and raise it a bit, maybe brush the long bangs away from her eyes, when a thin wail rose from the bedroom. When it wasn't answered, it resolved into a lusty cry.

"I'll get him," she said.

By the time Claire got back, Hugo had already cleared the remaining dishes. Baby Aaron, red-faced from his squall, squirmed in her arms and pouted.

Claire dabbed cool water on the baby's head. "The room was stifling. I couldn't open the window, but I shut the door anyway so the telly wouldn't disturb him, and now look."

Her anxiety spread to Hugo, too. Just his luck. What was he thinking coming over here? "Does he have a fever?"

She fought back tears. "He could have heat stroke."

When Hugo bent down to look more closely, the baby grabbed a lock of hair and gave it a swift yank. "Yow!”

The baby yanked again, this time with a smile.

"I think he's gonna be okay,” Hugo said.

She looked up at him, her damp lashes trembling, and he was lost.

When she finally spoke, the shake was gone from her voice. "Time for some nursie, Aaron.”

Oh, God. What was he supposed to do with himself now? "You want me to, uh...?"

"Why? Oh, don't tell me you're one of those cover-it-up types."

"Um, I just thought." He had always been careful not to stare at her when she nursed Aaron.

"You can keep me company. He's getting to the point where it's as much for fun as for milk."

Hugo couldn't stop the blush which covered his cheeks any more than he could stop his racing thoughts. In his confusion he remembered that she always had a water bottle nearby when she fed the baby. “Let me, um, get you some water.”

“Sure.” She settled herself on the couch and pulled up her t-shirt, oblivious to the reaction she was inspiring. He fled for the kitchen.

"I'm going to get spoiled," she called to Hugo from the living room. "I almost can't believe I did this on the ground, or under a tarp. It seems like another life."

Hugo tried to imagine what it was like to be tied to another being that way, bound by a web of love and desire and obligation. It seemed terrifying. But it seemed like heaven, too. Like Xanadu, beautiful and unobtainable, yet right over the horizon. Right through the door, or on the other side of that magic wall which parted to let you in, but only if you were ready. Only if you knew where to look.

They sat together in the small room with its earth-gray furniture, its rough clay pots and stark checkerboard carpet. The house's military-base design seemed so ordinary. If you didn't know better, you'd think you could just drive down to the Quik-Snak on Alameda Boulevard for a Mr. Icee Berry slush, the kind which left your whole mouth ringed with zombie blue.

Instead here they sat in the middle of nowhere, and even though someone very dedicated was looking for them, someone who might even be quite nearby, neither of them were in any hurry to be found.

Hugo tried not to stare at Claire's round pale breast, or the rose-tipped nipple which peeked out as she changed Aaron from one side to the other. He kept his eyes on her face as much as he could, until the soft white hills below her slim neck didn't seem so enthralling.

As he relaxed, desire no longer twisted at him. Instead, he basked in the delight of mother and child together. She played with Aaron's feet as he suckled, and he reached up to touch her face, or tugged gently at her hair. It was like watching a conversation made of song or dance, where even if you didn't understand the language, you could figure out everything being said. Claire's face softened with pleasure, and Hugo could have sat there for hours, silent because the scene called for no words.

Aaron's eyelids began to droop, and even though the baby forced them open, the heavy lids fell again. "He's slowing down," Claire remarked.

Hugo barely heard her, though. A sharp sense nagged him like the rough, unwelcome hand which shakes your shoulder at six in the morning, when you have to be up for the early shift that nobody wants.

The living room curtains were wide open, but reflected light filled the windows so that nothing outside could be seen. Someone was looking in, though. Hugo was sure of it, even though he heard nothing on the wooden porch.

The sense vanished as quickly as it had come. He tried to relax his shoulders, taking deep breaths.

The baby let the breast fall from his mouth, and Claire's attention swung back to Hugo. "You okay, Hurley? You look like a goose just walked over your grave."

"Nah, it's nothing." Again he fought the urge to get it off his chest once and for all. Either she would either understand, or she'd never speak to him again. Back at the beach, Claire had yelled at Charlie, that she didn't want any liars or druggies around her baby. Why wouldn't she feel the same way about crazy people?

True, he hadn't heard or seen anything unusual in the past few weeks. Not since before Libby got killed. But there was that weird walk back to the beach from Pala Ferry. And the dreams. At least he hoped they were dreams, because if not— "It's nothing," he repeated. "I think my stomach's just not used to popcorn, is all."

"I could make you some mint tea. There's a big patch of it in that overgrown garden." She handed him the baby. "Here, take Aaron. He needs to be upright for a bit anyway, before I lay him down again."

Hugo hoisted the limp baby onto his shoulder. That seemed to revive Aaron, who shoved a few locks of Hugo's hair into his mouth. Hugo tried to pull the baby away, but Aaron hung on, starting to whimper.

"Just pat him a bit on the back," Claire said, as she crushed mint leaves into a teapot. "He probably has a little bubble."

A few light taps did nothing, and Aaron continued to fuss. Finally Claire said, "He's not going to break, Hurley. Give him a thump."

When Hugo tapped the baby a little harder, he hit the jackpot. Aaron let out a resounding belch. Warm stickiness covered the left side of Hugo's hair and ran down his neck. A dark wet stain spread across the front of his t-shirt. The burp smelled like yogurt, but more sour.

"Oh, brother," Hugo said. "He nailed me good."

The baby started to crow, very pleased with himself.

(continued)


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