Title: Vacancy: Strange Inversion
Rating: PG-13, for themes and, erm, heavy angsting?
Disclaimer: Don't own them; just borrowing.
Spoilers: up to Eggtown; nothing that hasn't been aired
Summary: He whines and stomps his little feet and she's glad, somehow, that maybe he'll remember this, being indignantly angry at her.
Note: This is the first in what will probably be a 2-3 part series that follows the flashforward events of Eggtown. This fic can be read as a stand-alone, but any subsequent installment(s) will most likely need this one to make sense.
The seventh time in ten minutes that Jack calls her, she finally answers her phone. His voice is breathless, and she can barely make out his words, they're tumbling out so fast.
"We're getting them home."
Two weeks later, he calls again. Gives her a date and a time and an address. "Don't be seen." He's insistent on this point, and she even writes it down, beneath the numbers she's scribbled as he's talking. Don't be seen. As if she'd forget that detail.
Her gaze swings to her refrigerator. Colorful crayon drawings. Photos held up with magnets. She's pressing too hard and the pencil she's using snaps in her hand. Weakly, "Who?"
A beat. She knows before he says it.
"She'll be there, Kate. She's alive, she's back."
She presses end on her phone and her hands are shaking.
She's set her phone to silent so she doesn't jump out of her skin each time it rings. When she checks her voicemail, he's left just one sentence. "You need to bring him."
He didn't have to say it. She knows. Knowing doesn't make it any better, and it doesn't make his slightly condescending tone any easier to swallow. She deletes the message before she hears the click of him hanging up.
That night (she won't think of it as the last night, not until much later), she lets him sleep in her bed. She holds his warm little body close and presses her cheek to his hair, and when he rolls over and flings his arms in sleep and hits her in the face, she cries. If he were awake, he'd pat her face and pout his lip and say sorry, Mommy. If he were awake. She's glad he's sleeping.
In the morning, she takes great care in dressing him. He wants to wear his favorite Spiderman shirt, but it's worn and ragged and getting too small and she says no. He whines and stomps his little feet and she's glad, somehow, that maybe he'll remember this, being indignantly angry at her.
She'll deserve it. She already does. Always has.
She double-checks the address, triple-checks the toddler in the carseat before pulling out of the driveway. "Just going for a drive, Aaron. You're going to meet some of Mom--" She stumbles on the name and corrects herself. "Some of my friends." The little boy is nonplussed by the information, content to hum to himself, kick his legs against the seat happily.
The sign on the highway reminds her to not drive distracted and she laughs, a high-pitched, strangled sound. Sure, she'll remember that. She almost pulls over four separate times.
This should not hurt so much. (He is not hers.)
She always knew it would end like this. (He never has been.)
But she never imagined-- Well, it's never been a good idea for her to fall in love. This has been no exception.
She parks in the alley behind an unimpressive-looking building, recalling Jack's warnings not to be seen. Her sunglasses on, she unfastens her seatbelt, draws in a breath, and can't move. She sits in the car a full ten minutes, focusing on breathing in and out, in and out, until Aaron starts fidgeting, bouncing in his seat impatiently. She almost snaps at him: If you knew... But she stops herself. It's better this way. (She has to tell herself this, or she'll cut and run right now.)
Jack opens the door for her. He's shaved that horrible beard off, finally, but the fact barely registers in her mind, because he's staring at the toddler in her arms, staring as if he hasn't seen him in two years.
And of course, he hasn't. She places her hand over Aaron's head protectively and pushes past the doctor with a glance that clearly says what she feels about the past two years. You don't even deserve to look.
He takes the hint and leads her, silently, down a long hallway. She doesn't know what this place is, or whose, or how they've got it today, and she doesn't want to know. She doesn't want to know what he and Hurley and Sayid have had to do to get the others home, doesn't want to know about their murmured conversations she's heard in the background of some of the calls Jack's placed to her. She's here to do what she needs to do, and then to move on.
Move on. She'd laugh, except they've arrived now at a closed door. Jack's stopped in front of it, and she instinctively takes a step back, holding Aaron a little tighter despite his impatient wriggling. Jack looks at her again, the first time since he'd opened the alley door for her, an eyebrow raised only slightly. "Kate...you knew, when we left..."
"Don't." Her voice is fierce, dangerous. She'd slap him were it not for the baby in her arms.
He nods and opens the door.
The first thing she notices (other than that she doesn't see her immediately) is how there are fewer people here than she'd thought there'd be. Locke, Bernard, and Rose are conspicuously absent; but then, she'd expected that. It's the others, people she'd seen every day for months, people she'd assumed would be back with the rest, that surprise her, deepen the ache in the pit of her stomach. She glances at Jack and she can see he's thinking the same, even though he's known who would be here. "Smaller group," he acknowledges quietly, and she sees his carefully constructed triumphant leader façade crumble just slightly as he reaches up to rub a beard that's no longer there.
But the smaller group suddenly seems much, much too large, and she's surrounded by those they're here to greet. They're all hugging, touching, exclaiming over the child in her arms. It's as if he's the one coming home, their golden boy, their miracle child. He doesn't know what to make of all the fuss; overwhelmed, he doesn't know these people and he clings to the only one he does, burying his face in her neck.
She greets them by name, welcoming them, pretending this homecoming for them is in fact not a funeral for her, the day she's both anticipated and dreaded for two years.
And then she sees her, and it's not this big dramatic moment that she's imagined it would be; she's just there, looking as undone as Kate feels, and the small crowd slowly fades away into their own conversations and reunions.
"Oh. My God." Claire's hand flies to her mouth as if to stop an outpouring of deep emotion. "He's gotten...he's so big."
Big. Yes. He's so heavy in her arms now, and Kate's arms are straining and she's afraid he's going to fall. She holds onto him tighter and takes a long breath in through her nose, wills herself to calm. "He's a...a big boy." She nudges the little boy's cheek with her chin, urging him to look at Claire. At his mother. "Aren't you Aaron? You're a big boy now?"
Aaron smiles shyly at that and holds up two fingers to show how old he is. And now Claire is crying, holding her arms out for him like she can't help it, as if it's an involuntary reaction, and Kate's outside of herself now, watching herself hand over her son (not her son, not her son) to another woman.
She watches them, mother and son, and suddenly she's back on the beach, wind from helicopter blades whipping her hair as Claire presses the baby into her arms, tears streaming down her cheeks. You have to take him, Kate...He can't stay here. Keep him for me. Keep him safe. He'd been crying, too, frightened by the unfamiliar, loud noises and his mother's tears, and Kate had held him close and promised, and attempted a joke. But you have to come home for him...You know I'm no good with babies.
That same baby, now, is reaching out for her, and she wishes she'd let him wear the Spiderman shirt. What would it have mattered? She catches his little hand in hers, tracing his fingers with her own. "You have to go with Claire now, honey." She unshoulders the bag she'd brought, focusing her blurred gaze on it rather than in front of her. "Um...I have some of his things...I wrote down his...bedtime routine...his favorite foods..." She cuts herself off now. Some things she can't say aloud.
And suddenly Claire has stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Kate, and Aaron is sandwiched in between them, tightly. She hugs Claire but buries her face in Aaron's neck, his sweet scent enveloping her senses. She barely hears Claire's whispered, desperate "thank you" before she pulls away and her arms are empty again. She sets the bag down at the other woman's feet and gives them a tight smile (she's trying, she really is) before turning away.
It's not fair to him, she knows it, but she's never been able to do goodbyes. She walks towards the door she'd come in, ignoring Jack's hand grasping at her arm, putting her sunglasses back on over burning eyes.
She knows she'll hear it to her grave, the sound of his voice calling for someone she's not, anymore.