She appeared out of nowhere.
Claire had nearly finished filling the second water bottle when she noticed the flash of dark hair to her right. She snapped her head up quickly, instantly alert, and only relaxed slightly when she recognized Ana-Lucia. That woman had a habit of sneaking up on people.
Or, Claire admitted, maybe it was just that she was so quiet. Didn't talk much around camp, and when she did, it was always to Jack or Mr. Eko. Sometimes Jin would bring her fish, and she'd smile, which always looked so odd on her. Mostly, though, Ana-Lucia kept to herself, and the camp seemed to like that just fine.
Claire included herself in that category and shifted uncomfortably, wondering if they would have to have a conversation now. She was dismayed to see the bag of empty bottles at Ana-Lucia's side. The other woman gave her a tight smile and approached the water collector.
It was difficult to keep from staring, and Claire found herself slowing in her task. Ana-Lucia had no such problem, fully focusing on the water without an upward glance. After awhile, Claire noticed that while Ana wasn't meeting her eyes, she was glancing somewhere. She followed the line of sight to Aaron's empty crib and swallowed nervously.
"How is he?"
Claire started and looked back at Ana. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Your baby. He's sick, right? Fever." She still wasn't looking at Claire, just keeping her head down.
"Um, he's doing better. Much better, actually. Jack says he's going to be fine." She smiled politely and leaned over to get a better view of Sun and Aaron by the water. Still there.
"Good." Ana twisted the cap off the next bottle.
Claire frowned at the other woman uncertainly. They had hardly interacted in the few weeks since the groups had merged. 'The Girl Who Shot Shannon.' That was the extent of Claire's knowledge about the newcomer. Libby had been much friendlier, always talking to people, getting to know them. She seemed like one of the group already.
"You should see if they got a fridge in the hatch," Ana-Lucia said abruptly, interrupting Claire's train of thought.
"A refrigerator?" she replied stupidly.
"Yeah, you could put the cloth in there, and then put it on his head. It helps bring the fever down or something. Make him feel better." At last, the other woman looked up, her eyes wary. She stopped filling the bottles and just stood there, her body tense.
"Okay," replied Claire haltingly. "Yeah. Good idea."
"I saw you with the wet rags before," explained Ana-Lucia, shrugging. She seemed to be waiting for something, but Claire couldn't tell which of them was expected to speak. "I heard him crying the other night."
"Oh, sorry – "
"Nah, it's fine. Babies."
"Do you … know much about babies?"
"No." Ana-Lucia's face seemed to shut down. "I just read some stuff, awhile back."
"Right." The silence lasted so long that Claire wondered if they were done. She pursed her lips together and decided to make the effort. Ana-Lucia had chosen to talk to her, for whatever reason; the least she could do is talk back. "I like your jacket. Or, what used to be a jacket, I guess," she amended.
Ana swallowed and shook her head slightly, as if clearing it. "Thanks. It was supposed to be water-proof. Guess that doesn't include crash-landing into the ocean and swimming for your life."
Claire blinked. "You guys landed in the water?"
"Yeah." Ana-Lucia drew her eyebrows together. "Didn't you?"
"No. Just the beach."
Ana exhaled bitterly. "Figures."
"Is that the sleeve of the jacket?" she asked, pointing to the strip of leather holding the large stick that hung at Ana's hip.
"Yeah, I needed something to carry it around with. Worked at the time."
"Why? I mean, why carry it around all the time? You're not in the jungle anymore."
Ana-Lucia studied her for nearly a minute before responding. "I like to have it on hand. Beaches aren't as sunny as they look."
Claire squinted at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
But Ana merely looked over at the crib again. "Nothing. Doesn't mean anything."
Claire looked at her disbelievingly and shook her head. "Can I ask you something?" The other woman simply shrugged, so Claire pressed on. "Why are you still wearing the same clothes?"
Ana-Lucia stared at her, eyes somehow darker than should be possible. "Airline lost my luggage," she said flatly.
"No, I mean it. We've still got some stuff no one's claimed. Kind of a community stash."
"Community, huh?" Ana smiled wryly. "Not really my thing, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Still, it can't be easy. I mean, what do you wear while you're washing them?"
Ana-Lucia quirked an eyebrow, the side of her mouth curling up. For a moment, her eyes sparkled, and Claire caught a glimpse of what she must have been like Before.
Claire found herself blushing and fumbled ahead. "I just think no one would mind if you picked out a few things."
"Maybe you're right," agreed Ana, without a hint of belief in her voice. "Maybe I'll go shopping this afternoon."
"Good," replied Claire uncertainly, stuffing the last bottle in her bag and reaching for the zipper. She halted at the sound of Ana's voice.
"Can I ask you something?" Those eyes were pinning her again, but with a hint of nervousness behind them now.
"Sure, I guess."
Ana-Lucia suddenly turned toward the water, staring at Sun and Aaron, no expression on her face. "How do you sleep?"
"At night. How can you close your eyes, knowing They're out there? How can you not be terrified of losing him every single minute of the day?" Ana's voice grew strained, the straps of the bag twisting in her hands.
Claire let her breath out slowly. "I don't know. A person can't live like that. What's the point? You've just got to trust in something, eventually, or you just go crazy."
"Crazy." Ana let out a hollow laugh. "Right."
"Listen," Claire began, pausing when Ana-Lucia turned to meet her gaze. She could see the sadness in the woman's eyes, sadness fiercely fought to remain hidden, but there all the same. "Listen, I'm going to do some laundry this afternoon. You could come, maybe look through the clothes pile a bit. See if anything grabs you."
Ana-Lucia stared solemnly at her. Claire imagined she'd probably had those eyes as a kid, too, and that same silent gaze. She watched Ana take a deep breath and slowly exhale, closing her eyes. "Yeah, okay," she said finally, opening her eyes and lifting her chin.
Claire smiled in spite of herself. "Okay, then." They both stood awkwardly for a moment. "Well, I'll … I'll come by for you later then."
"Later," nodded Ana-Lucia, a faint smile on her face.
Strange, Claire thought to herself as she headed toward the water – that smile hadn't looked odd at all.