stefanie_bean: (Hurley and Claire)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 40: The Tarot Game
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: 4400 words
Status: Complete
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 40: The Tarot Game

Three days past the spring equinox flew faster than seabirds hunting fish, and now it was time for Hugo to return to the Island. He pulled the Hummer up in front of the big parking garage door of Our Lady, Star of the Sea church, Claire's hand warm on his thigh. Glancing over at her with a mix of tenderness and regret, he had to talk himself out of bolting.

I could do it. Just give it back, and walk away free. Mom and Dad would be overjoyed. We could make Claire and me legal, too, fix her immigration stuff. If Kate let us, we could adopt Aaron. Ben'll do fine on his own. Anyway, what does the Island need a protector for, now that Smokey's gone?

When he'd first listened to Jack's call, he'd been scared by the size of the responsibility, of being overpowered by forces of unimaginable size and power. Ben, though, had been right in his advice to Hugo: do what you've always had done. Let the ordinary eternal machinery of the universe grind on. Carry wood, draw water.

That advice seemed outdated now, given how everything in the past few days had changed. This morning, someone had woken up besides him, pale hair all wild from sleep. She had fixed him with her bright blue eyes and drawn him into a morning kiss while her son jumped from the couch to the bed and back again, shrieking with laughter. Someone had sat across from him at the breakfast table, cutting melon into pieces for the child. She had ridden shotgun all day while he picked up hypodermic needles and other medical supplies for Bernard. Someone had helped him pack all of it into two large duffel bags, which sat in the Hummer's trunk. Then, they'd shared a late meal of burgers, fries, and shakes, and he'd licked a vanilla streak from her chin.

That someone wouldn't be next to him when he woke up tomorrow in his narrow monk's bed. After all these years, to draw her into his arms, only to have her torn out of them, it wasn't fair. Even the thought of leaving her tore small shreds off his heart.

Her sidelong glances told him that it hurt her, too, and that she sensed the storm thrashing inside. "It'll be all right. Mum, Kate and I, we'll hold down the fort till May Day."

His earlier thoughts of walking away felt like madness. What had come over him? Pele's words came back to him, Three days on the mainland is all you have. After that, whatever devils plagued you will return seven-fold. But they weren't late, so it couldn't have been that.

Who was he kidding? "Claire, I really wish you could go with me."

"We've been over this, Hurley. I should be at the house when Kate gets back. There's everything she's going through with her mum. And she's going to need time to... get used to things." They both craned around towards Aaron's empty car seat. His mom and Carole had stayed behind with Aaron, saying they needed to “make plans.” God knows what they were cooking up together, but he'd bet it had to do with the upcoming wedding.

With a creak, the garage door slowly began to rise. As the Hummer crept into the dim space, Hugo had to maneuver around an older Ford pickup, navy-blue in the shadows. A wheelbarrow, lawn mower, and gardening equipment filled the bed.

Up half a flight of stairs, Eloise Hawking stepped into the light. Something about the way her thin lips formed a straight line started the old familiar churn of anxiety in Hugo's middle. He tried to shake it off with lightness. “Hey, Eloise. Your truck?”

“Yours, as a matter of fact.”

“Mine?”

"I'm putting you on the church payroll, so that you have an explanation for your presence here, other than piety. I suggest you drive it instead of that garish vehicle."

Claire smiled and hugged his arm, but her warm presence didn't reassure him. Nor did anything in Eloise's manner, especially when she glanced at her watch. “You have a few moments to spare. Indulge an old woman, and come see what's left of the Lamp Post.”


* * * * * * * *


Hugo barely recognized the big basement room which made up the former Dharma station, even though its sign still decorated the door. No longer did the big pendulum whoosh back and forth. The blinking equipment was gone, as well as the blackboards and shelves crammed with manuals. Without the computer clutter, the fluted stone columns gave the room a spacious, chapel-like feel.

Eloise's heels clattered on the giant map which filled the room's floor, now scrubbed of all its chalk lines and inscriptions. Hugo followed Eloise, with Claire close behind him, even though it seemed wrong somehow to walk across the enormous map-face. He craned his head upwards to stare at the gaping black hole in the ceiling, where the pendulum once hung. Even when he quickly looked away, a black hole stared down at him like some cyclops's empty eye.

Eloise stopped at the center of the Pacific Ocean, where the Island might be. “What do you think?”

“I think this map would be awesome for a game of Risk,” he answered.

Claire gave a small laugh, and positioned herself atop Australia. “The players could walk around on it, instead of pieces.”

Suddenly the room grew cold and serious, sending a shiver down Hugo's spine. Someone had actually tried that trick already, with uneven results. “You know, on second thought—“ He broke off speaking when a faint pink glow caught his eye, and he stepped across China to examine the source of the light. Something drew Hugo to it, he couldn't say what. Whatever force had abandoned the now-vanished pendulum, it hadn't left this room. The blue-tinged air, the small patch of pink, all of it felt alive.

One computer still rested on a battered metal table, clunky and old-fashioned like the machine in the Swan Hatch. The keyboard and monitor were all glommed together in one case, which probably made it his own age, or even older.

“Looks like the computer museum guys missed one,” Claire said.

Hugo squinted at the small, blocky screen, which displayed a game's title screen. It must have been more modern than Pong, because it wasn't black-and-white. The image was chunky and pixellated, though, the colors crude.

Claire gave a little disapproving cough, but Hugo's eyes were glued to the screen anyway. A blonde woman looked forward, her hair tumbling over her shoulders. Her arms were squeezed together, so that her enormous breasts spilled out of her tight blue princess dress. Her skirt was hiked up above her knees, which were set wide apart.

Between the woman's legs, big block letters in hot pink read, “Spread 'Em.”

Hugo barely had time to glimpse, “...Development Lab, Ann Arbor, MI, copyright 1983,” before Eloise settled herself in the chair. “You two might as well see this, as it concerns you. I don't want to presume, but may I call you Hugo? And you, Claire?”

“Sure,” Hugo muttered, still staring at the pixel cleavage. “Never saw this one in the bargain bin at Fry's.”

“This one's for the lads, I guess,” Claire said, from over Hugo's shoulder.

At least Claire wasn't pitching a fit. His mom would have just reached for the “Off” switch, and that would have been that.

Eloise hit a key, which brought up a menu screen. “I have to apologize for the developers' sophomoric taste. Sometimes all we can do is use the tools which we're given.” The list was barely readable against a background of cards, but not the usual ones with hearts, clubs, and so on.

Claire murmured, “The tarot. It's a tarot game, right?”

Eloise smiled like a garish pink moon, her white hair the color of boiled shrimp in the screen's light. “That's right, dear.”

Hugo suppressed a shudder. The psychic in North Hollywood who'd read his fortune had been a fake, but tarot cards still gave him the creeps. “So why didn't you give this computer away?”

“It's the only one of real value.”

Claire read down the menu. “'Query.' 'Three-card spread.' 'Tree of Life.' 'Meru?' 'Kalki?' What is all this?”

“Why don't we take a look? Who wants to be first?”

“I will,” Hugo said, giving Claire an apologetic look. “Yeah, I know, normally ladies first, but—“

“Go ahead, Hurley.”

The chair squeaked as he sat down, and it made him nervous when Eloise craned over his right shoulder.

“My advice is to start with 'Kalki.'”

“What's 'Kalki?'”

“You'll see. Use the down-arrow key, and hit 'Enter.'”

When Hugo did, the screen went green for a second. Then a huge, fat man appeared, sitting on a vine-covered throne, dressed in long electric-green robes. The man's hair and beard hung down long and black, curly like Hugo's own. On his lap he held a large golden disc, like a coin. He might have been wearing some kind of crown, but the image was too poor a resolution to tell.

“Is this... me?” Hugo whispered.

“What you see is the King of Pentacles. Or Coins, if you prefer. The way the game was supposed to work was that you could ask for a single tarot card, or a spread: that is, a group of cards. The game would draw from a deck. Needless to say—”

“It doesn't really work that way,” Hugo interrupted. “Does it?”

“No, it doesn't. When I first came here, 'Kalki' always showed a card called The Hermit, celibate and alone, carrying his lantern. A few months ago, the image changed to The Magician, but stayed that way for less than a day. Now, this is what you see.”

“What the hell is this?”

“I don't know, Hugo. This machine was here when I arrived. In any event, when the tarot image changed, I knew that Jacob was dead. When it changed again, it was clear that his successor had died as well.”

“Jack.”

“Yes.” Eloise then turned to Claire. “My dear, would you like a turn?”

“Sure.” She gave Eloise an apologetic smile. “I'm used to feeling the cards in my hands. But these aren't really cards, I suppose.”

Eloise didn't answer. “I recommend 'Query.' It will draw a single card for you, something about yourself. A kind of self-portrait, if you wish.”

There appeared on the screen a woman with wild blonde hair, her almost-bare, lush breasts not so exaggerated as the woman's on the title screen. Her long green gown hugged her body. She sat in a field of red flowers, and was visibly pregnant.

“The Empress,” Claire whispered.

Eloise gave the screen a look of alarm, then scrutinized Claire, which started Hugo's heart leaping. The already-cool basement air seemed to grow a little chillier.

Claire felt the change in atmosphere, too. She slid out of the chair and over to Hugo's side, pressing herself against him, staring at Eloise. “What? What's wrong with the Empress?”

Eloise folded her hands, looking somber. “Earlier this evening, I queried your future, the two of you.”

“What?” Hugo said.

Claire's eyes blazed in the dim light. “Really, now?”

“Settle yourselves, my dears. Mostly auspicious; some sorrows, as everyone has. Most critically, though, the reading culminated with the Six of Swords.”

Hugo said, “What's that?”

Claire turned to him, her voice calm, even though she was trembling. “There's a boat, with a woman in blue, and a child. A man is ferrying them across a river. I think it refers to Aaron and I going back to the Island with you.”

“Very good, my dear,” Eloise put in. “Of course, you're right. But the Empress adds an additional wrinkle.”

“What wrinkle?” Claire snapped.

The anxiety which had been circling Hugo's middle found a spot to its liking and settled in to build a nest. The sense of something alive in the room grew even stronger.

“I take it you were planning to use the Door, Claire.”

“And why shouldn't I?”

Eloise sighed, long and drawn-out, full of sadness. “Let me tell you a story.”

Oh, great, Hugo thought. A ghost story, in the basement of the Mystery Church. Just what I need right now.

“It was decades ago, on the Island. I was forty, and finally pregnant after all those years. Let's just say that I had a quarrel with the child's father, one of those on-going ones that never seem to resolve. Then your friends from the future showed up—“

“Dude, that must have been Jack and Sayid. Because Jack wanted to blow up the Island with the bomb, and you helped them.”

“Yes, I did. Because like Jack, I believed I could change the future, too.”

Claire settled herself back down in the chair. “But you didn't.”

“No. My son still died. The carousel wheel still spun, and I never got off of it.”

“What does this have to do with me?” Claire asked.

To Eloise, Hugo choked out, “You left the Island, didn't you? And you didn't use a submarine, neither.”

“It was still tightly in the Dharma Initiative's control. So of course, no.”

Hugo said, “You used the Door.”

“I did. And I wish I never had.”

“Did it do something?” Claire said, voice full of anguish. “How pregnant were you? Did it do something to the baby?”

“I was five months. Daniel was brilliant, but unstable. I always blamed it, and blamed myself for using it.”

Hugo had enough. “Eloise, this is all great, cool game and stuff, and I'm really sorry about Daniel, but Claire and me, we gotta go. We're burning moonlight here.” Everything seemed to be leaking out of him: any confidence, all the good feelings of the drive over, the anticipation of six more weeks, then everything coming together. He, Claire, and Aaron stepping into the shrine, passing through the Door, then hitting the warm Island sand with the sun on their faces. He could see Aaron rushing towards the waves, shrieking with excitement. The whole vision popped like a soap bubble.

“Of course,” Eloise said. “Let me show you the way out.”


* * * * * * * *


Hugo clung to Claire like a child in a storm, still trying to piece together what he'd just heard. When they stepped into the late-night air, he didn't head for the shrine, where the Door hung open. He didn't even need to see it, to feel its yawning presence. It waited for him, an unsleeping eye that wouldn't be satisfied until he stepped into its relentless gaze.

Instead, he sat down at a round concrete table right outside the side door of the church, and pulled her down next to him. He wished he had a paper bag to blow in. Seven devils, Pele had said. Right. The first ones had already sat down to join them.

His panicked face must have scared her more than the tarot card, because she said in a rush, “Hurley, we don't even know if I'm pregnant.”

He just stared past her over at the parking lot, miserable. What the hell have I done? Stupid, useless, careless, the whole old list.

“Look, maybe you can tell,” she went on. “You told me you could, with Kate and the women on the Island.” She stood between his legs, his belly pressed against her thighs, and brought her head close to his. “At least give it a try.”

He tried to pull together what little concentration he had left, and rested his hands on her hips. All he saw inside Claire was a reddish-grey darkness, like a soft, spongy nest. Nothing like the clear light he'd seen inside Kate, for instance.

It was if she had read his thoughts. “Maybe it's too soon. I mean, it was only this weekend.”

“I don't think you should even be around the Door when it opens.”

She stepped back, challenging him. “That's ridiculous.”

“No, it's not, Claire. Maybe it gives off something like X-rays.”

“Don't you know?”

His stricken face admitted to her that he didn't.

Biting her lip, she went on. “Or maybe Eloise blames the Door for breaking Daniel, when maybe Daniel was just born that way, brilliant but unstable. It happens.”

He hoisted his pack across his shoulders, and she pulled on his hand, leading him towards the shrine. “You're not going to fall apart on me, Hurley. You're going through the Door, to get things ready for us.”

“You're not going through it,” he said, as if expecting an argument.

“No, of course not.”

“But what are we—? How are we—?”

“I don't know. What I do know is that we've got to get you back on time.” Claire strained to open the heavy oak door, so he gave it one final push. The Door glowed like a shining jewel in the shrine's open, grassy center.

Hugo didn't even think to argue anymore about whether she should be near that gleaming opening or not. Now she almost shoved him along, her small hands buried deep in the flesh of his arms and sides. When he stood right on the rim of light, in a moment of startling clarity he looked full into her wide eyes welling with tears.

“Good-bye, Hurley,” she said in a strangled voice, before kissing him with a hard, fierce motion. “We'll figure this out.”

A single step, and the wind in the Door sucked him inwards, away from Claire, towards the Island.


* * * * * * * *


Glaring fluorescent light fought its way through the window of Eloise's office. Last night, at this same lonely post, Eloise had watched a few coyotes lope through the parking lot, then retreat to the canyon which bordered the parish property.

A bright yellow utility vehicle drove past Eloise's office window. That would be Claire, steady at the wheel despite the shock she'd had this evening. From her pale face, Eloise suspected Claire's conundrum. Of course, The Empress card didn't necessarily imply a pregnancy. But it was obvious that Claire suspected, or was at least open to the possibility.

She began to fill out Hugo Reyes's I-9 and W-4 forms, copying his signature from one in his file, with no compunction on her part whatever. A nagging anxiety sent a thread of pain through her forehead, and she leaned back in her Aeron chair.

She had just filed copies of Hugo's paperwork when the old rotary-dial phone began to ring, the one that almost never did. Her heart started to pound. “Star of the Sea. May I help you?”

“Hello, Ellie.”

His voice sounded the same as it had thirty-some years before, and she would bet her share of Charles Widmore's estate that her caller's hair was still glossy black; his face only lightly lined. She knew how that particular magic worked. It was one reason why she had left the Island in the first place. “Richard. What a surprise.”

“It shouldn't be. I emailed you at the parish.”

“I'll have to check my spam filter. They're such a bother.” You've only been on the mainland how long? And now you call?

“Hugo told me that the pendulum stopped working.”

“A platoon of strapping youths from the museum came to pick it up."

“That's all right. We don't need it any longer.”

She suddenly felt very old and useless. “I suppose not.”

A few heartbeats' worth of silence hung between them before Richard spoke. “So, I hear the... arrangements with Hugo are working out.”

“The target point has been fixed, on the property here. Also, we've put him on the payroll as a 'landscaper.'”

“Are you sure about that? I mean, there's always a chance of publicity—”

“No one is going to bother a Hispanic gardener with a valid US driver's license who works for a Catholic parish. You and I have always disagreed about this, Richard. You want to hide, but I favor living in plain sight. Mr. Reyes can store his utility vehicle in the garage. Yes, it's off the street.”

“What does he even need to drive for, Ellie?”

She rolled her eyes. Richard could be terribly dense at times. Just another item to check off in the leaving-the-Island list. “To visit his parents. And the Topanga Canyon house.”

“Oh, right. They're his friends, after all.”

“One is more than a friend."

Richard cleared his throat. “I've been meaning to bring that up. It could be complicated. Claire and her mother are here on a three-month tourist visa, and they've already eaten up a good part of it. After that—”

She didn't bother to hide her irritation. “I know how it works. If the Littletons play by the book, they have to return to Sydney. Taking the child will be complicated, as his birth registration shows Kate Austen as his mother. Once in Sydney, Ms. Littleton can apply for another tourist visa, of course. Why are you even troubling me with this, Richard? It's Mr. Norton's area of expertise, not mine.”

“I just don't want Hugo to do anything stupid.”

As you did with me? “I'm afraid he already has, although 'stupid' is a bit harsh, wouldn't you say?”

“How far along have things... progressed?”

“Let's just say that I recommended she not use the Door. And it's definitely out for Ms. Austen.”

“Oh, hell.”

“Richard, do remember what it was like to be in love?” As soon as she said it, regret stabbed her. There was no need to bait him, to open old wounds.

“Not since the early 1850s.”

Touché. You're quite the swordsman.”

“You always thought so.”

“Although you drew the first blood.”

“No, that honor went to Charles.”

“Bad form, Richard. Definitely beneath you.”

No static crackled in the dead air between them. She missed the noise which older phones made, because it gave you something to focus on during the wait. When Richard spoke again, she could barely hear his low, strangled voice.

“Ellie, let's not quarrel. Look, I'll admit it, I'm afraid. I sat on that dock on the Island, and age ripped through my bones. At first, when I knew I was getting older, I was happy. Now it gnaws at me. I wake up at 3 AM and can't get back to sleep, because I'm afraid I'll die.”

In a dry voice she said, “Go to confession, Richard.”

“I did, back in 1956. The priest asked for so many details, I was afraid he was going to get me arrested. I ran out of there before receiving absolution.”

“You're where, just outside Portland? Hold the line a second.” She flipped through the Rolodex on her desk. “Call this number in the morning, and ask for Fr. Gutiérrez. He'll shrive you whenever you're ready.” She rattled off the phone number, and he must have written it down, because in the background she heard small, scratchy noises.

“It's not just a matter of hell, Ellie. Long ago I stopped believing that confession could help me.”

“Sweet milk of Mary, you've been infected with the heresy of Luther. I'm not your confessor, Richard. You don't have to believe in the sacrament. Who outside of a few saints does? Just go. Go to fucking confession.”

The obscenity settled in the space between them. When Richard spoke again, it was with a hard challenge in his voice. “Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Go to confession.”

A pointless wave of sadness brought Daniel to mind, bleeding out onto the rusty Island dirt while she watched. “Of course I did. After twenty minutes of discussion as to whether you could apply an act of contrition to something that was inevitable, that was fated to happen.”

Sorrow ripened in the silence before Richard said, “He was my son, too, Ellie.”

Why should she be so perverse as to deny Richard this little victory? What would it cost, to finally share what she had already long suspected? “To be honest, he probably was. I'm so sorry.”

“Like you said, Ellie, I'm not your confessor.”

“Fair enough.”

“I'm going to rearrange my schedule. I can be in Los Angeles by the end of the week.”

“I won't be here, Richard. I need to fly to London, to shake a few apples loose from Desmond Hume's tree. His and his wife's time would be better served here in Los Angeles, rather than trying to liquidate Charles Widmore's businesses at fire-sale prices. Already she was thinking ahead, envisioning plane schedules, what to pack, when to call the driver to take her to LAX.

“He left everything to Penelope, I understand.”

Inside, she took back every kind thought about older phones. Eloise wanted to pace, and the coiled cord tethered her to a small radius around her desk. Her frustration erupted in her words. “No doubt, although it doesn't sound as if she's very appreciative. Some of Charles's creditors are already threatening lawsuits.”

“Maybe Mittelos should buy out Widmore Laboratories.”

“Excellent idea, Richard.”

“If you're flying to London, we could meet there. I could prepare an offer for Penelope Hume and the board of directors.”

“You don't give up, do you?”

“I want to see you, Ellie. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be back in the States, but there's just something, I don't know what. Something missing. You've been there, Ellie. You've seen. And I...”

She didn't let his voice trail off too long. “You miss him. You're trying to adjust to a world in which he's gone. It's not surprising. One hundred forty years is a long time, and I'm sure the two of you were close.”

Richard laughed, bitter and sarcastic. "Jacob was never close to anyone. Look, Ellie, when you're back from London, why not come up to Portland? It's a beautiful city, not like that rat-maze down there.”

He made it sound so easy, save for one small, insurmountable obstacle. “Did you forget that I'm seventy? You remember the Parthenon in her glory, but nothing remains save a ruined edifice.”

“People make pilgrimages all over the world to ruined edifices. Remember, I've spent most of my life among ruins.”

“You haven't lost your charm, Richard.”

“Neither have you, Ellie. Neither have you.”

When Eloise rang off, she was smiling.

(continued)


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