stefanie_bean: (Hurley and Claire)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 33: The Two Towers
Pairings: Hurley/Claire, Kate/Sawyer
Characters: Hugo "Hurley" Reyes, Benjamin Linus, Desmond Hume, Claire Littleton, Kate Austen, James "Sawyer" Ford, Rose Nadler, Bernard Nadler, Carole Littleton, Aaron Littleton, Background & Cameo Characters, Original Non-Human Characters
Rating: M
Length: 4686 words
Status: Multi-chapter, WIP
Notes: Fantasy and supernatural elements. Think American Gods on the Island.

Summary: Hurley is now Protector of the Island, while Claire, Kate, and Sawyer head back to our world. But when it comes to love, the Island has ways to get you where you need to be.


Chapter 33: The Two Towers

Ben floated on his back in the mineral spring, breathing in the metallic scent of hot, bubbling water, and drifted towards the center of the steaming pool. Hugo had been back from his visit to Los Angeles for a month now, none the worse for wear, apparently. A little quieter, maybe. Thoughts far away, so that if you wanted to speak to him, you had to say his name twice, or even touch him on the arm.

But he had only been gone for seventy-two hours, and Ben was damned glad of it. Ben had sat vigil on that lonely hilltop opposite the Door for three days, leaving his camp site only to search for firewood, or snare a few fish. The first week after Hugo's return, Ben's arm had ached from writing, mostly about Claire and the rest of the Ajira returnees, Eloise Hawking and the broken pendulum in the Lamp Post Dharma station.

So the Lamp Post was now useless for tracking the movements of the Island. Interesting.

The bushes rustled, and Bernard stepped into the clearing and immediately began stripping off his clothes. "I see you put the red rope across the path."

"Well, by the calendar it's 'boys' day.'"

Bernard chuckled. "Say what you want about Rose's systems, they keep the peace."

Ben stretched out lazily. Hot water was about as close to heaven as you were going to get on this earth. "You'd think there'd be a simpler system."

“Tell that to Rose's face, I dare you.” Bernard lowered himself into the hot water. "It was her idea to stretch a rope across the path. Red for men's day, blue for women's, yellow for mixed bathing.”

"That was a good compromise for our local threesome."

Bernard swam out to join Ben in the center, where the water was about six feet deep. "And green for Hugo."

"Hugo does like his privacy." Ben switched to dog-paddling, just to wake himself up a bit.

"He'd have hated the Chicago Men's Athletic Club. When I was in dental school, they still had nude noon-time swims, and all those saggy old men horrified me. Now I'm one of them."

They both laughed. More rustling came from the bushes along the path, and Hugo's curly head peeped through. "What's so funny, guys?"

"Just Bernard reminiscing about his misspent youth."

Wearing a t-shirt and board shorts, Hugo lowered himself into the hot spring and immediately submerged. When he surfaced, his long, wet mane streamed down over his shoulders.

"How's the renovation going?" Bernard asked.

Hugo bobbed like a cork, his shirt billowing. "Done. Sullivan helped me hang the bamboo blinds this morning."

Ben had watched over the past few weeks as Hugo had ripped out the walls of his house, pulled up carpeting, hauled away appliances which were useless without electricity. Barracks houses had been difficult enough to keep clean when the power was on. Unmodified, they were almost unlivable.

Most of the New Otherton inhabitants had already converted their cottages to open-air lānais, keeping the roofs and structural supports intact. They wove blinds from thousands of tiny bamboo twigs, and lowered them on rollers for privacy, or protection from rain.

Across from Hugo's house, fat bees covered the blossoms on the grassy mound, and fruits were already starting to swell along the spreading vines.

Hugo had more to say, though. "Hey guys, I been thinking."

Ben suppressed a groan. The last time Hugo had used that "I have a plan" voice, he'd merged four croquet sets into one, and distributed the wickets all over New Otherton. When they ran out of wickets, Sullivan obligingly formed another couple dozen out of spare wire. The game had gone on for days.

"So, what's on your mind?" said Bernard.

Now that Hugo actually had their attention, he hesitated, then cupped water in his hands to squirt at the dragonflies which buzzed the pool's perimeter. "I, um, next time I go to LA... If she wants to, I mean... I'm gonna ask Claire if she wants to come to the Island sometime. For a visit."

Ben and Bernard stared, too astonished to speak. Bernard was first to recover. "Really? After all that she had to get through to get back home?"

"It's just a visit. I don't know if, like, she'd even want to."

Ben tried to sound casual, his thoughts racing. "What about Aaron?"

"Sure, she could bring Aaron. He'd love it. The beach, fishing, everything. He could play with Kiya. I bet Emma and Marian would fight over watching him."

"Hugo, if anything happened to him here—"

"You think nothing ever goes wrong in LA?"

"No, of course not, but—"

Bernard broke in. "Hugo, I think it's a fantastic idea. I can't speak for Rose, although I think she'd really like to see Claire again, and Aaron, too. Look, Ben, there are people here who've known him from birth. We all got close to the little guy, and Claire, too."

Mentally, Ben kicked himself for not seeing this coming. What was with him, was he going soft? Distracted? "So that explains the renovation. It'll be a lovely place for her to stay, Hugo."

Hugo beamed, and Ben could have sworn that when he smiled like that, the shards of light reflecting off the roiling water actually shone brighter.

"Awesome, Ben. There's something else I got to do before I ask her, though. We've gotta go around, check out the Island."

"I've got it," Bernard said. "You want to 'beat the bounds.'"

“What's that?” said Hugo.

"When I was in Wales, years ago, I visited this parish church in the country-side. It was spring, right after Easter. The vicar, choir-boys, and the towns-people all went in procession around the parish boundaries, and whenever they stopped at a landmark, they'd hit it with sticks."

Hugo snorted with laughter. "What the hell?"

"It was an improvement over hitting the boys, which was what they used to do in more barbarous days. The thinking was that when the kids grew up, they'd remember where the boundaries were, and could pass it on."

"Before detailed surveys," Ben explained.

"Exactly."

"I wanna go around the whole Island, but without the sticks.”

"We could take the metal outrigger, the one tethered at Boat House Dock. You can smack the water with the paddle if you want." That said, Ben's curiosity still prickled at him. "So, why this sudden interest in surveying the Island, Hugo?"

"Umm... reasons."

Usually when Hugo got an idea, Ben knew that he wanted to act on it. "Right. Tomorrow, then, at first light?"

Hugo frowned, but only a little. It was obvious that the prospect of this upcoming trip pleased him. "Not till after breakfast, dude. You know the drill."


* * * * * * * *


The sun had climbed halfway to noon when Hugo and Ben loaded their backpacks into the metal outrigger canoe, then paddled from Full Moon Bay out to sea. As soon as they rounded the curve of the bay, a strong current pulled their craft to the south, right along the western coastline.

Since the ocean was doing most of the work, even Hugo's powerful strokes didn't contribute much. Ben leaned back in the stern and relaxed a little, making only tiny corrections to keep the outrigger on its course.

It was impossible to steer a canoe and not spend an inordinate amount of time staring at your paddler's back. If a back could be said to look happy, Hugo's did. To Ben, a canoe was just another form of transportation. Like airplanes, canoes were boring at best, mostly exhausting, and in certain moments utterly terrifying. But every so often Hugo turned around to give Ben a wide grin, and his happiness infected Ben, too.

Soon Window Rock came into view. The Door couldn't be seen from the coast, but in Ben's imagination it pulsed in the heart of the hillside, a sleeping eye now closed, one which in a few weeks would open once more.

Ben stopped musing when they reached the archipelago of tiny islands which jutted out to sea directly to the southwest of Window Rock. Strong winds kept trying to blow them into their jagged sides, tossing them between competing waves which danced in between the rocks.

This was where paddler and steersman had to trust one another. As Ben called out commands to Hugo, he tried to keep the growing panic out of his voice.

All at once, the passages between the rocks settled into calm, and Hugo pointed towards one of the larger islands with his paddle. "Dude, look!"

The surface of the tiny island seemed to be moving. Ben squinted against the sunlight, and the seething mass turned into brownish-gray seals, piled on top of one another so closely they formed a solid, wriggling mass. A few seals on the edges of the group dived into the water, splashed, then struggled to make it to shore once again.

"Hey, can we look at some more of these little islands?"

Instead of answering, Ben swung the canoe around the archipelago's curve, away from the main Island itself. They followed the rocky chain for awhile, passing one small island after another, each so thick with seals that the rocky ground was barely visible.

A few of the seals swam alongside the outrigger for a few minutes. Hugo said, "I guess they're safe here, huh? Nobody's gonna hunt them or nothing."

“Unless you want fur.”

“Nah.” One of the seals floated canoe-side for a brief instant, and Hugo pointed his paddle at it. “Hey, little buddy, you get to keep your coat.”

When the archipelago came to an end, they picked up speed and headed out across the open water, back to Jacob's great foot-statue.

Ben fought down rising anxiety and the remembered smell of burning human flesh. He had piled up the corpses of Ilana's bodyguards into the center of Jacob's fire-pit, where they had flared up in a burst of light bright as a white-hot sun. While Hugo wouldn't have to look at their bodies, they were seared into Ben's memory.

Both Hugo and Ben stopped paddling at the same time, letting the current take them. “You want to check it out?” Ben said.

Hugo looked the gigantic structure up and down, then turned away. “Man, that place looks depressing.”

“You have no idea.”

“Yeah, Ben, I think I do.” When Ben didn't answer, Hugo gestured towards the steep mountainside, where birds rose and fell on the wind. “There used to be a radio tower up there.”

The flat finality of Hugo's words made something inside Ben crumble. Everything he remembered of the Island, his Island, was literally vanishing before him. Even the rusted corpse of the old Dharma micro-bus now served as home to two dozen chickens. “Think we should hike up there to see?”

“Nah, I didn't even make it halfway there the first time. 'Course, back then we took the inland route. Not like there'd be any point now.”

The sea-wall which made up that mountainside was virtually unassailable, except by air. The Joint Task Forces had built the radio tower on the highest point of the Island for a reason. Nor did Ben even have to ask Hugo how he knew that the tower was gone. Still, Ben couldn't resist a tiny barb. “I thought you might be sentimental. When you think about it, that radio tower was what brought you here.”

The flicker of pain which Ben expected never materialized. Instead, Hugo chuckled, but his laughter wasn't directed at Ben. “Man, was I ever a dumb-ass. Curses, schmurses. Come on, let's get outta here.” Hugo dug his paddle into the water with such force that Ben jerked back a little, and they continued on their way.


* * * * * * * *


Coconut palms cast long shadows onto the sand when Ben and Hugo arrived at the old Oceanic 815 beach camp site. Two months had passed since Hugo had hammered his small, friendly note into the ground, despite Bernard's skepticism that it wouldn't last the first thunderstorm. The note was still there, as were the shelters, remarkably undamaged.

What wasn't there, though, was the smaller outrigger canoe. The larger one, which Ben had brought back from his trip to Jacob's statue, still rested under its screen of leaves and branches. Ben had a sneaking suspicion who had taken it, and had left traces of a fire, too. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Living at the Temple makes you sloppy."

Hugo looked up from his attempt to start their own fire. "Huh?"

"When Richard taught me jungle-craft, it was a point of pride that we never left a single trace. No fire, no footprints, not a broken leaf, nothing. My guess is that Rennie was here."

"Yeah." All at once, Hugo's fire blazed up yellow and cheerful in the gathering gloom. Ben didn't want to know whether its flickering warmth resulted from skill or something else.

As always, Hugo brought the provisions. Ben's arms ached, and twilight fishing was his least favorite prospect right now. Luckily, Hugo drew from his back-pack a wheel of hard cheese, a greasy package of dried fish, followed by a couple of strings of dried plums, strung like wrinkled purple beads.

Ben cut off a slice of the sharp cheese, fragrant and crumbly, well-cured. "This reminds me, we're running low on salt."

"Can't we just, um, use the stuff the cows do?"

"The cows need it way more of it than we do. No salt, no milk."

"Hmm." Hugo cut his plum-string and pulled off dried fruits, one by one. "You know, I kinda miss this place. We had some good times here."

Ben was glad his incredulous look got lost in the dusk. He had to admit, though, that of all the beaches of the Island, this was the loveliest. An ancient ironwood tree presided over the whole strand, a great lady with a magnificent crown of dark, feathery leaves, cloaked in sunset like a royal-purple robe.

“I wonder what Rennie was doing down here,” Ben mused.


* * * * * * * *


Out on the water once again, Ben and Hugo paddled around the first of the Island's three great southeastern peninsulas. On the steep cliff-face, a broken ladder still dangled above a dark opening in the rippled rocks.

Hugo squinted against the bright eastern sun. “Looks like there's some kind of cave up there.”

“That's where it happened.”

“What happened?”

“The end. Of Jack, and the monster, too. Don't you recognize it?”

“I'm not a seagull, so no, not really.”

“By the time you and I got there, it was already over.”

Realization broke across Hugo's features. “Oh, man, yeah.”

Ben was just glad that Hugo had no interest in that cliff-side cave, because he sure as hell didn't want to explore it.

From the set of Hugo's shoulders, it was clear that his mood had dampened a bit, even though he still broke through the water with strong, untiring strokes. Ben skillfully caught the right cross-currents and the canoe sped forward. Even so, a stiff easterly wind blew them closer to the boulder-ridden shore than Ben liked.

Ben almost lost his focus when the lighthouse came into view. It stood like a bridge between earth and heaven on its high promontory, surrounded by a living wreath of circling, shrieking gulls.

Hugo twisted around. “Sorry, dude, I owed you a lighthouse trip, and we never pulled it off. Wanna collect that rain-check?”

Without answering, Ben executed a powerful back stroke. The bow of the canoe swung around towards the shore, then smoothly came to rest in a small cove lodged between massive piles of boulders.

Hugo's voice rang with admiration. “Dude, that was swift.”

Ben smiled, priding himself on his steersman skills.

They dragged the outrigger onto a spit of beach barely fifty feet wide. A narrow rocky trail led up the hill-side to where the lighthouse sat.

In the glaring sun, Hugo wiped his brow. “That's some hike. When Desmond and I came here, we took the overland route.”

“Don't worry, we'll take it slowly.”

Slowly was an apt description. An hour later, both Ben and Hugo were panting like two sets of bellows. Far below them, the outrigger sat wedged in between two rocks, as high as they could stash it above the tide-line.

Exhausted as he was, Ben couldn't stay silent. He craned his neck upwards, trying to take in the imposing structure. “It's like the Pharos of Alexandria, only not so tall.”

“The what?”

“An ancient lighthouse built with a system of mirrors at the top. The legend was that the focused light was strong enough to destroy invading ships.”

“I wouldn't hold my breath for any mirrors. Jack kinda broke them.”

Hugo waited for Ben to precede him up the narrow spiral stairway, but Ben just stood in the doorway in a kind of half-dream. “It's like the Heart of the Island, isn't it? Someplace you don't see unless you're in just the right spot.”

“Or with the right person. After you, Ben.”

The two of them finally reached the top, puffing and panting. In one swift glance, Ben took in the brass clockwork mechanism, the shattered mirror-glass which littered the stone floor, the astonishing view of Island and ocean.

None of these were what stunned Ben into speechlessness. In the fire-pit, a clean white flame shot up almost to the lighthouse's roof. He stretched his hand towards it, but felt practically no heat. The pounding of his heart slowed, as astonishment gave way to curiosity. What glowed in that fire-pit wasn't a flame at all, but rather a column of clear, white light. It was easy to believe that with intact mirrors aimed in just the right direction, you could set a ship ablaze.

Or guide it in towards home.

“Hey, somebody turned on the lights.” Hugo ran his finger over the names inscribed on the great brass wheel. “Yup, here it is. Just like Des and I left it. Hugo Reyes, Number 8. So now the Door opens to LA."

Ben barely heard him. He understood how moths could immolate themselves against an incandescent bulb. Nothing was as beautiful as that unflickering light, no woman's face, no child's.

If what Hugo said was true, the radio tower on the west side of the Island had fallen, along with so much else of what the Pacific nuclear test program and the Dharma Initiative had wrought. Only this tower remained, straight and undefeated, even after the earth-splitting events of a few months earlier.

Ben tore his gaze away from that column of pure clarity to the great brass gear-wheel, upon which so many names had been inscribed. Virtually every one, it seemed, had been struck through with a graphite line, including Jack Shephard, number 23. “Did you do that, Hugo?”

Hugo was already heading towards the stair-well. “Not me. No pencil, for one thing.”

Ben's voice sounded very far away. “'The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.'”

Only the dull roar of the wind answered him, for Hugo had already turned to descend the lighthouse's precarious spiral stair.



* * * * * * * *


A mile across from what Ben now thought of as Lighthouse Point rested a small sandy island ringed with scraggly coconut palms. A few enormous sea turtles sunned themselves on the beach, sending disinterested glances towards Ben and Hugo as they set up camp.

It was Hugo who stated the obvious. “Turtle Island, right?”

“Obviously.”

When night fell, the beacon at the lighthouse's highest point gleamed like a miniature sun, piercing the fog which settled over the strait between the lighthouse and Turtle Island.

“You know, that can probably be seen for miles out to sea." Ben didn't want to stir up alarm, but he could imagine ships being drawn in by that clear jewel.

“Doesn't matter, Ben. Unless they're looking for it, they can't see it.”

“Hugo, I'm afraid I don't—”

Hugo fed a few thick branches into the fire. “Look, dude. When that radio signal sent out the Numbers, if you just walked by it, you wouldn't hear anything, right? To hear the Numbers, you'd need a radio.”

“A radio receiver, you mean.”

“Yeah, whatever. 'Cause you can't, like, hear radio waves with your ears.”

Ben was beginning to get it. “Not only do you need a receiver, you need to be tuned to the right frequency.”

“That's right. If you don't got a receiver, and you don't know the station, you can't tune in.”

“So riddle me this, Hugo: with the lighthouse, what kind of receiver are we talking about? And what station do you have to tune in to?”

Hugo's words were muffled by his coarse brown blanket as he rolled over, clearly ready for sleep. “Who knows?”


* * * * * * * *


The next morning Ben and Hugo took to the waves once more, leaving Turtle Island behind. Buffeted by strong cross-winds, they bore due north, where it took all their combined strength to keep a straight course.

At the angular spit of land which cut across the sea-front in a jagged dog's-leg, Ben saw for himself the blank ocean which had once filled by Hydra Island. Out on the open waters, long gray fins sliced through the waves with lazy circling motions.

Closer to shore, white-water churned in complex patterns. Their roughest course was fast approaching. While Ben could wend his way through the tall boulders, rocks right below the surface of the water would get you every time. “Maybe we should call this 'Cape Hydra.' It's treacherous enough."

"More like 'Cape Sharko Mundo.' Besides, I don't think it's a good idea to remind Rose about that place. Remember how upset she got."

Ben was just about to suggest naming it "Dog-Leg Point" instead, when Hugo dug in hard. The outrigger took such a forceful turn to port that Ben almost flew out of the stern. "What the hell?"

Hugo made himself heard, even above the crash of waves on rock. "Over there! Left!"

Ben screamed, "Just paddle and let me steer!"

A six-foot wave drenched them with spray, dumping a few inches of water into the boat. The canoe rocked back and forth, held stable by the outrigger.

One thing about having a bow-man as wide as Hugo was that he was hard to see around. Hugo was hysterical now, shouting, "Ben! Look!" although Ben couldn't see anything. They swung again hard to starboard, where they met another wave face-first.

The current dragged them directly towards a group of three tall, sharp boulders. "Back!" Ben screamed. "Back-paddle, now!"

Hugo's stroke almost lifted them out of the water. As waves bashed them from all sides, Ben tried to keep the canoe as straight as possible. Finally he wormed the canoe into an eddy formed by a low, tightly-grouped rock wall.

It wasn't until Ben wiped his face enough to get a look at the deadly boulder trio that he saw what Hugo had been screaming about.

The missing outrigger from the beach camp was wrapped around two rocks of the three, its hull almost bent in half. The canoeist must have gotten sucked into the same maelstrom that Ben and Hugo had narrowly avoided. The craft was pinned to the rock wall as if nailed there, fixed in place by the relentless ocean currents which poured into the canoe's broken body.

"Oh, crap," Hugo said. "Ben, look around the side, at that smaller rock."

Ben almost didn't want to. To the right of the three massive rocks was a smaller formation, rounder and lower to the surf's edge. Wedged in between them was a man's body.

The body swished back and forth in the waves. "He tried to swim for it, apparently," Ben said.

"Looks like he missed."

"This musta just happened. He looks pretty fresh."

"That isn't always a reliable indicator, Hugo."

"Crap, crap, crap. Ben, that's Rennie."

Of course it was. What was left of Rennie Delacroix still wore red and brown Temple homespun. Gulls tore off strips of skin and cloth from the body, screeching at Ben and Hugo for interrupting them.


"We have to get him. I can swim over and—"

"No, Hugo! Don't get out of the boat! I can't manage it by myself, not in this. And don't stop paddling, whatever you do." Even the eddy was one in name only. It was taking all of Ben's strength just to stay stable and away from the rocks.

"Okay." Hugo closed his eyes, as if concentrating. Suddenly, a wave pushed up and lifted Rennie's body out of the rocky crack. Skin and clothing tore away as his body came free. Then the wave collapsed into a great swirl, sucking Rennie underneath with it. The body vanished.

The remaining water from that bizarre wave had to go somewhere, and that somewhere was right at them. "Pull!" Ben shouted, so Hugo started paddling even harder. They had barely cleared the eddy when a ten-foot wall of water smashed into it. Had they not moved, they would have been pinned up against the rock wall themselves.

Hugo's back strained from effort. Not that Hugo's life depended on it, but Ben's did. It wasn't until they reached the calmer waters to the east of Cape Sharko Mundo that they rested their paddles on their knees, panting heavily.

Hugo was first to speak, and his voice trembled. “Ben, you don't think I... did that?”

Content to drift, Ben didn't even answer at first. “Did what?”

“You know, made Rennie swamp somehow. 'Cause of what happened with the guns. Like I might have made the Island turn on him, or something.”

"How would you be able to—" Ben cut himself off and fell silent. He really had no idea whether Hugo could do that or not. Still, he mustered the energy to say something comforting. "Being land-locked, the Temple wasn't known for its water skills. This was a dangerous spot. We almost got sucked into it ourselves. I can't imagine what possessed him to try and run that channel the way he did."

Hugo's lips moved silently, and his eyes were wet with more than salt spray. Then, prayer finished, he picked up his paddle. "Go ahead and rest, Ben. I can steer from up here."

Ben was grateful for the offer. To their port-side, a wide rocky crescent spread out, a footstool for the green cliffs which soared above the sea. A thin strip of beach highlighted the c-shaped shoreline, and the still, deep waters shone aquamarine blue.

Letting Hugo pull him along, Ben had literally nothing to do but drink in the beauty of the Island's eastern shore. The rocking of the waves, the rhythmic slap of water, the bobbing of the outrigger, all washed over Ben like a lullaby. He was about to drift off to sleep with his eyes open, when Hugo's voice broke through.

"Dude, you are gonna want to see this."

Up ahead, at the far edge of the crescent-shaped shoreline, white dots covered the beach. As Hugo and Ben pulled closer to shore, the white dots resolved into a dozen or so yurts, their bleached canvas sides glittering in the bright sunlight. Small dark figures moved among the tents, and Ben wished he had a set of binoculars. "I think we found our missing yurts."

"Hey, you know that Potem-thing you talked about, some kind of fake village?"

"The Potemkin village that was set up around the Door, yes."

"Well, I don't think this one's a fake."

On-shore, people ran to boats, pushed them into the surf and started paddling towards the outrigger. Ben swallowed, hard. "I don't think so, either. Maybe we'd better stop right here."

(continued)


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