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Title: Xanadu
Chapter 4 Title: Don't Walk Away
Chapter 4 Length: 1670 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 4: Don't Walk Away

"You little monkey, come here." As Claire reached for Aaron, a long strand of white goo laced its way down the front of Hugo's shirt. The wet stuff on his hair and back started to drip, warm and slimy. Claire looked between Hugo and the baby, fighting hard not to laugh. "Both of you need to be hosed down. No, I take that back, Hurley. You got it far worse." She wiped the mess off Aaron's face and chest. "Hang on. I've got to get his basket."

By the time she got back, the goop was beginning to dry and stiffen, and the sour-milk smell grew even stronger. Claire laid Aaron in the basket, in the middle of the kitchen floor, then turned to Hugo with a small smile still playing around her lips. "So what are we going to do with you, then?"

"I should just go. Sorry, Claire, what a mess."

"You didn't make it. Funny, though, Aaron hasn't done that for awhile now."

"Guess he just got inspired," Hugo said in a weak voice.

"You don't have to go," she said, suddenly serious. "Unless you want to."

He could go back to his house, barge in on Sawyer and Kate, endure Sawyer's jibes, take a shower, go to bed clean and fresh-smelling. Or he could stay here, soaked and smelly, which didn't seem to faze her at all. Actually, he'd willingly be coated in mud head to toe and dipped in dung besides, if being clean meant he'd have to be away from her. "I'll go outside and use the hose.”

"Not in the dark you won't. The back-door light's busted."

"Man, does it always smell like this?"

"Silly, it's just milk. I'd offer you a shower, but that's out of commission, too. Tub only, and it takes forever to fill. Look, it's simple. Just take off your shirt. We'll get your hair first, and the shirt later."

He stood staring, hardly believing what he just heard. The last woman to tell him to take off his clothes had been a middle-aged psychic in a rundown palmistry studio on the low-rent edge of Beverly Hills. His father had put her up to it, it had turned out. In the frozen silence of the drive home, David Reyes had defended himself. There was nothing wrong with an older woman showing an inexperienced guy how to be a man. Hugo was crazy not to take her up on it.

When David looked over at Hugo's face, he swiftly shut up.

At the time, Hugo didn't know what was more appalling, that his father would do something like that, or that it took over a thousand dollars to convince a woman, even one as old and homely as the psychic, to sleep with him. It wasn't until weeks later that Hugo wondered how his father had even known that the woman was for sale in the first place.

Hugo still burned from the embarrassment. But there was nothing like that in Claire's tone. Still, at first he didn't want to. Even when he swam he left his shirt on. No matter how hot it got, no matter how hard he worked at digging or lifting logs, no matter if practically every other man on the beach went bare-chested in the tropical sun, Hugo stayed covered up. It was only when he crept off to the secret pool halfway to the edge of the Dark Territory, the one no one else knew anything about, that he undressed fully and bathed. Even then, he never lost the sense of being watched, never could put aside the fear that someone would surprise him, would point and laugh and mock.

Claire looked quiet and thoughtful, as if she sensed his discomfort. "It's just bodies, Hurley. It's nature."

"Yeah, I know, but—"

"Hurley, there are beaches in Sydney where people don't wear anything, you know?"

"You mean, no swim suit?"

"That's right."

"Yeah, the Mr. Atlases and the super-models, I bet."

"You'd be surprised." A sharp and critical expression darted across her face, but it wasn't directed at him. "You wouldn't be the largest man I've ever seen."

"What the hell," he muttered, mostly to himself, and raised his sodden t-shirt.

She helped him pull it off, careful not to scrape his skin with her nails. "Let me tell you a story about that. Thomas and I, there we were at the nude beach. It was hotter than hot, thirty five, thirty eight degrees maybe."

She didn't catch his puzzled expression at her use of Centigrade, just tugged the rest of the shirt off him, and draped it over the kitchen chair. She ran the water in the sink, testing it with her hand to see when it got warm. "There was this big group of Japanese blokes, the wrestlers, you know? And girls, they had all these girls with them. Mostly Japanese, but some Aussies, too."

She guided Hugo's head under the sink. He was putty in her hands; she could have led him anywhere. Water ran over his sticky hair as she reached over his broad shoulders to rinse his head. When her soft breasts pressed up against him, he almost stopped listening, but then the story got interesting.

"Anyway, there were three of these guys sunbathing, all starkers. They'd make you look small, Hurley. Then there were four or so of the younger guys, not so big. I guess they have to grow into their full stature, or something. But they were all chilling with the girls and their mates, talking to each other in Japanese or once in awhile in English. Then one of the biggest wrestlers, he went off to buy a shave ice. That's when these jerks came up, surfer types, and started giving the big Japanese guy a hard time."

She worked a few drops of dish soap into Hugo's wet hair with her surprisingly strong fingers, still leaning up against him in that delightful way. "Well, I don't want to repeat what they said. It was ugly, though. Then a couple of the younger wrestlers got involved, and we thought there'd be a dust-up. The meanest one squared off with one of the young wrestlers, trying to get him to fight. The big wrestler just stood behind them with arms folded, not saying a word. A few beach cops watched the show too, but didn't make a move. Finally the yobbo lunged at the Japanese guy."

"Bet he used some kind of kung-fu on him, right?"

Rinsing out soap, Claire laughed. "Nope, just gave him one good right cross to the chops. The guy went down, his mates grabbed him, and they got out of there. The Japanese went back to their blankets like nothing happened. A lot of people clapped and cheered. Me included."

She wrapped a towel around Hugo's head and went on in a conversational tone, "The next day we heard the yob's jaw was broken. Everybody thought he got what he deserved. Look, bend down, so I can reach."

When Claire finished toweling his hair and moved on to his chest, Hugo couldn't fool himself any more. She wasn't just being nice. She was enjoying this, especially the way she kept glancing over his chest and down the wide curve of his stomach. When he caught her out, she grabbed the dirty t-shirt, and started washing it in the sink.

With a little sigh, he tugged at his masses of wet hair.

"What's wrong?" she said, setting the wet shirt on the counter.

"It's just that, uh, if I don't comb it, it turns to dreads."

"I've got just the thing,” she said, and headed for the bedroom.

From his basket, Aaron played with his own toes, trying to jam them into his mouth. Claire returned a moment later with a dry towel. After draping it around his shoulders like a mantle, she gestured to one of the kitchen chairs. "Here, I'll give you a combing-out."

Hugo balanced himself on the narrow stainless steel chair, as Claire picked gently through his hair with a wooden wide-toothed comb. She arranged the locks one by one without a single pull or snag, then rubbed a little hand lotion between her palms. As she worked it through his hair and massaged it into his scalp, he leaned back, eyes closed, while soft breezes from the open kitchen window and her cool, soothing hands played over his head. Then, too soon, she was done.

"That's nice," he said. "Way better than fingers. Which is what I been using."

"There's an extra comb in the bathroom. You can have it."

"Thanks, Claire. But I guess I ought to be getting back." Hugo waited, wondering if she would say otherwise, hoping for something he couldn't admit. If he did stay, well, he knew where he wanted that to go. But something held him back, a sense that it wasn't time. Not now. Not yet.

"Right. I guess you should." Claire didn't sound sad, or glad. She just studied the baby in his basket. Then she turned to Hugo and said, "Why should you? Kate's not going to be back tonight anyway."

Hope leapt in Hugo's chest, squashed almost at once by an even stronger sense of responsibility. "Well, she might. You never know."

"I could put some blankets on the couch. And leave a note for her, so she won't freak out if she comes in and sees you."

"That way my shirt could dry out."

"You could hang it on the line. This breeze keeps up, it'll be dry by morning."

"I don't want to, uh, get in the way. I mean, you got your hands full here." He looked down at the baby because he didn't want her to see the naked hope in his eyes.

She smiled in the dim yellow kitchen light. "More hands, lighter work."

"As long as its, like, no trouble."

"Believe me, Hurley. It's not."

(continued)


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