After a while, they recognize what their routine, their strange, dysfunctional family, really is. It's hope.
This doesn't take place at any particular time or reference any particular episode. It's more an attempt to create an idea of what life on the island might be like in the quiet times—the everyday, when the survivors don't have the Others or that giant black smoke thing after them. About how they find a way to get on with life despite everything and the life that they fall into.
Gratitude for inspiration goes to mnemosyne23 and her "Canaries" (it's excellent; read it) and especially SaberBlade over on the boards at a certain Star Wars website for her wonderful piece "A Strange Thing."
It's strange, the way they can fall into a routine. Almost frightening, at first. At the beginning it seems like a surrender, giving up on hope, admitting that there's probably no one ever coming for them, no one looking. Some of them feel guilty for this; hope is hope for a reason, after all.
But time passes, sun-soaked days that seem longer than any back in the real world. Time doesn't matter so much here, and neither do a lot of other things. Money, for instance, or education, or your past. There just isn't room for such things, even under an endless sky and water that stretches on forever. Because, after all, the tangle of jungle presses just behind them, seemingly edging closer to the beach day by day. Birnam Wood, Sawyer calls it one day, with that ironic twist of his mouth that shows his dimples, and no one is surprised that he can reference Shakespeare that casually.
That's part of the routine, after all. Sawyer has his books, and they're the one sentimentality he allows himself. Somehow, over the course of the first few months, every book in camp ended up in his possession, as the medicine he'd hoarded slowly made its way to Jack's care and someone put Sun in charge of divvying out clothes. But Sawyer's books are a byword, and no one is surprised that he's reading Watership Down for the eleventh time or that the cover just fell off of Emma. No one even thinks to bring up the fact that Jane Austen doesn't seem like a very Sawyer-like thing to read. Because there isn't a Sawyer-like book; he's long ago devoured every single readable item on the island: magazines, a newspaper or two, the health information on the back of empty food boxes, diaries of those who didn't make it. He reads them all and collects them all and everyone knows that if they pause by his tent and casually mention that they're bored, he'll grunt and grumble, but they'll go away with reading material in hand. They know that they'll return it, too, as soon as they're done, because Sawyer somehow, unwittingly, inspires a return policy stricter than any library: he doesn't have to say that they're now the only physical thing, beside his gun, that he cares about anymore. They all know. He's still rough and loses his temper more often than not and often takes out his anger on those who really don't deserve it, but he's mellowing, marginally, and no one is really scared of him anymore. Perhaps is love of books humanized him in their eyes. Either way, he's no longer just "that Southern con." He's a human, now, and a member.
They understand his need for the books, because that's how Locke is with the weapons. Kate has a gun, and Jack, and Sawyer, and Sayid, but all the rest, and all the knives, and even the machete they found in the jungle, rest in Locke's care. After all, he's the only one who can hunt with any proficiency, though Kate's not bad, and Walt is learning fast, despite Michael's protestations. They also all know that he takes a kind of simple pleasure, finds a rough sort of peace, when he's sharpening the knives on the rough pumice stone Sawyer found who knows where, and they don't begrudge him that. Maybe not everyone trusts him completely, but they know he won't hurt any innocents, and on this island, you have to get over things like a little distrust. Dependence is more important, and though they're reluctant at first to admit how much they rely on the fruits of his hunt—Sawyer makes a point of always being reading The Lord of the Flies when Locke emerges from the forest, dragging whatever it is behind him—they soon recognize that there isn't any shame in interdependence, and they're grateful for his skills.
Sayid can fix anything, and everyone knows it. He's also a wellspring of random knowledge that never fails to amaze everyone. He makes razors out of bits of the metal from the plane's body; he uses the batteries from watches and wires from useless cellphones to rig up contraptions no one really understands; he keeps the transistor always at the ready. He's a good man, everyone knows, and there's a steadiness about him that makes more than one person feel a little safer at night knowing he's there—after all, he was a soldier. And no one mentions Shannon to him—not that they avoid the topic. If she comes up in conversation, or if he needs someone to talk to, which is very rare, they'll accept it. But nobody goes out of their way, pushing, prodding, telling him that he'll feel better if he talks about it and doesn't bottle up his pain. Because everyone knows that isn't really true. There are some things that only time can heal, and he is the evidence of that.
If Sayid can build anything, Michael can fix anything, and no one is surprised at all when one day he announces that they need a more permanent shelter. He strides off to the woods, sometimes with Walt dragging behind, sometimes with Jin by his side, but always with axe in hand and a useless pencil behind his ear. He spends several long days chopping down trees before he has a clearing of the right size—right next to the beach, but on firmer ground. Then he and Jin drag the remnants of the plane and the pieces of the raft that washed to shore and set to work. It become established that Michael will always be working, building, and everyone watches his progress with interest, marveling at the way he can take a pile of junk and transform it into something that resembles a home. And everyone smiles at how he's slowly—very slowly—closing the gap between himself and the son he never really got a chance to know, and there's a peace that comes from watching him return from a long day of work to plop down beside his son on the sand and start doodling on scraps of paper Sawyer gives him.
Walt loves the island, and isn't afraid for everyone to know. Who can blame him? He doesn't have to deal with peer pressure or homework or bedtime. The island is like one big amusement park, and though he occasionally gets bored, he can usually find something to do. Everyone waves as he goes racing along the beach, Vincent barking for joy as he tags alongside. He's a smart kid, wanting to learn everything—hunting from Locke and tracking for Kate and even gardening from Sun. At first, he annoyed people with his questions and his persistence, but now everyone appreciates it. He's a good kid, really, and it's wonderful to see him reconnecting with his dad.
It's amazing, it really is, how easily Jin can now communicate, though no one thinks much about it, simply because that's the way things are. But he's grown sensitive to tone and repetition in a way that Sun never could have imagined before the Crash, as they call it. She's glad they came to this place, and she thinks maybe he is, too, as she notices that his face holds a smile every bit as often as it did during their courtship. But she's the only one who notices the easy way in which he and Michael work together, falling into a steady rhythm of chopping trees and lashing poles together. Sun doesn't have to translate so much for him anymore, and everyone knows that if they want fish, that he'll recognize the word and return from the ocean in a bit with one wriggling in his hand and a smile on his face.
Perhaps its Sun's calmness, her radiating peace, that can make anything grow. Or perhaps it's that her healing relationship with her husband gives her more confidence, more to believe in. Whatever the reason, she can always find a plant to boil for a tea for a headache or to make a poultice from, and no one has gotten sick yet from anything she's given them to eat, though more than one person spent a miserable night in the woods after trying some native fruit without getting her approval first. Hurley asks her, one day, how she knows what's right for what; is this plant life similar to Korea's? Her smile is soft and mysterious, and she shakes her head. No, it isn't, but she just knows. And everyone knows how therapeutic it is for her to dig her hands into the warm soil and coax the seeds to life.
Hurley thinks maybe he's got the best end of the deal. Everyone likes him, and his job is very simple: just keep everyone's mood up. It's not as hard as it might seem, or as it was at first, boosting morale on a desert island. He was always something of a goofball, a bit awkward, but so laidback that it was perhaps inevitable that he would end up being the one everyone counts on for a not-very-funny joke that puts everything in perspective. When there are arguments or tension, he can diffuse them with a simple "Dude." The numbers don't haunt him so much anymore, and he has nothing else to worry about.
Rose is faith incarnate, quiet and sure, a rock of certainty and composure. Even if no one believes what she does, they appreciate that she does. In a way, she is the whole camp's conscience and their faith repository. When people have doubts or fears, all they have to do is talk to her. Usually not about the actual issue, but even so, they walk away with a newfound confidence and a belief that everything will turn out the way it should.
Nobody's exactly sure how Jack became the leader, especially since he wasn't ever appointed or voted or any such thing. He, especially, wonders sometimes, realizing all the ways he's messed up, and in his darker hours thinks it's fitting: he always has to have something to fix, Sarah used to say, and nothing needs fixing like this rough band of strangers who are slowly becoming a family. That still doesn't keep him from feeling inadequate, unworthy of everyone's trust, and unprepared for this task. It haunts him at night, when he is certain that he will end up letting them all down in the end. But in ways and for reasons beyond his comprehension, they seem to have faith in him, to believe that he will make the right decisions. Perhaps everyone appreciates that he isn't some kind of dictator, that he doesn't always think he knows best, that he's willing to listen to anyone's opinion, and indeed often asks for it. But in the end, he's usually the one making the decisions, though they're different from any he ever imagined he would have to face: will this storm be rough enough that they should all retreat to the caves for the night; should Locke and Kate go off to see if they can find another water source; should they pursue Rousseau to see what she knows about the island's secrets. There are so many decisions he has to make, so often that everyone's fates rest in his hands. That's scary, and he worries perhaps more than anyone, and knows it, too, but it's a burden he's willing to take on if it means everyone else can sleep easily at night.
It surprises Kate—scares her—how comfortable she is with her role, with being the confidant of the whole camp. Somehow, whenever anyone has a little problem that they can't solve, but they don't want to bother Jack with, or when they just really need someone to talk to, they come to her. The irony of this is not lost on her, nor on Sawyer, either, who mockingly calls her "the Shrink." She's amazed by what this secret-sharing does for her. She seems to be opening up here, healing, in a way that she's not sure she ever could have before. The bitterness, the defensiveness, that was necessary for both a con of sorts and an outlaw on the run, are slowly being stripped away. Though she's still tough, still the first to volunteer for a trek into the more dangerous parts of the jungle, still keeps her gun close at hand, still has a slightly wary look in her eyes, she's different now and everyone knows it. She's more open, warmer, and though she keeps her secrets to herself, no one begrudges her that. She's done so much, seen so much in her relatively short years, that there seems to be nothing that she can't understand. Even when she can't fix it, as she often can't, she listens, and sometimes that's more than enough.
It comes randomly one day, Sawyer calling Claire 'Angel,' and it becomes one of the few nicknames that stick, like Freckles. Everyone chuckles about it, because she does, indeed, look like one. But Charlie thinks she's more like the Holy Mother, and sometimes he dreams about her that way. He mentions it to her one day, that that's her role, reminding them all of beauty and a quiet sort of grace when she's rocking Aaron and looking out to sea. She tosses her hair back and complains, half-joking, half-serious, that she wishes she was something more than just a pretty face, that she had a real job like everyone else. Until one day Sawyer tosses her a copy of The Little Prince, and she doesn't really understand until she comes to a line almost at the end, and it brings a smile to her face: It's useful because it's beautiful.
But if anyone doesn't have a role, it's Charlie—or at least that's what he thinks. But everyone knows what his is: he's supposed to take care of Claire and Aaron, and though that seems strange in a community where everyone looks out for everyone, it means more than he knows. Because somehow, inexplicably, if Claire and Aaron are happy and content, then everyone else relaxes. If the most fragile of their whole community can laugh and be at ease and enjoy a sunrise, they can, too. And there's no doubt that Charlie is what keeps Claire and Aaron that way; when he went hunting with Locke and the storm came up and they were gone for three days, Claire was frantic out of her mind. Aaron, picking up on her mood, or perhaps simply missing the awkward, kind-hearted ex-rock star, cried the whole time, now fussing, now squalling. Everyone was on edge, and when the two hunters returned, soaked and tired, but whole, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Those three—Claire, Charlie, and the baby—were the first family that formed on the island, and it seemed that the family that the whole group became radiated out from them. Charlie underestimates himself, but no one else does.
When Claire was pregnant, she was just a walking liability, a time bomb waiting to go off, one more responsibility that no one wanted to take on. No one quite anticipated then the way Aaron's laughter would be able to lighten the mood of the whole camp, or that seeing Charlie race around with the toddler on his shoulders would bring a smile to even Walt's face, or how soothing Claire's voice as she sings to him at night would be, or that there would always be humor to find in watching the baby wrap in fingers in Sawyer's too-long hair as the ex-con wearily reads to him from Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which everyone knows neither one can understand. But Aaron is the future, perhaps, and not just in the way babies usually are. He means more, more than anyone can quite verbalize, so much more that no one quite wants to try. Life can go on, and they can thrive in the shadow of the jungle and the monster and the Others—and of reality.
Because reality is this: everyone knows no one is coming for them. Sometimes Sawyer will whistle a few bars of the theme song from Gilligan's Island, but nobody winces or stares at him in horror at his insensitivity anymore. That's just the way he is, and it's the truth, anyways. Kate tells Claire one night that when she pictures their rescue, she sees it years from now, when, by chance, a plane flies off course as theirs did and catches sight of a fire burning far below. Perhaps Aaron will be a nine or ten, then, or even a teenager, and they'll all be shipped back to where they came from, going their separate ways and trying, in vain she knows, to adjust to a life they simply cannot be assimilated back into. Sun, who is sitting nearby, has that sad smile when she says that she almost wishes that no one would ever come for them, if only the Others and the monsters will stay away. No one says anything in response to that, but everyone sitting around that fire understands, and agrees. After all, their lives are here now. They've all gotten a second chance, they've worked hard for it, and they deserve it.
At first it's almost frightening the way they can fall into a routine. At the beginning it seems like a surrender, giving up on hope, admitting that there's probably no one ever coming for them, no one looking. But after a while, they recognize what their routine, their strange, dysfunctional family, really is.
Obviously, you've realized by now that the Tailies aren't included, simply because this would be way too long if they were. For my purposes, also, Walt is back, just because it makes it too complicated if he isn't.
I'm really anxious for feedback on this one, because it means a lot to me. Let me know what you think.