A/N: I wrote this in a day, which only happened to me once before, so it must really have needed writing. Also - yes, it's sentimental, but I just sat through the series' finale, darn it, so I believe I'm entitled. :) And it's not more sentimental than said finale, for sure, so not to worry too much.
Hope you enjoy! Any kind of feedback - positive, critical or mixed - is welcome, as always.
Et In Arcadia Ego
He isn't sure, in the end, why he chooses to stay. Or, no, that's not quite true, isn't it? He does know the reason – he's never done anything without one in his life and, let's be honest, death would be a crappy time to start – but not why it would be his reason altogether.
It feels strange, a lapse like that. As strange as anything feels in this place where dead men walk, wrapped in skins of their own making. Like his own skin, not a day after meeting Desmond Hume's fists, looking as unbroken as it ever did.
No, wrong again: as it never did.
If that's meant to be symbolic, he doesn't buy it.
There's a click when Hugo shuts the church door behind him, and then he's sitting, alone, in the half-darkness, staring down at hands folded in his lap. His nails are clean, pink, neatly filed down to the fingertips. For a second, the thought that his subconscious considered clean fingernails, of all things, essential enough for inclusion in his afterlife, is almost too comical. Except when he wants to start laughing, it doesn't come out as laughter at all.
He pulls his jacket about him, compulsively, stops himself with an indrawn breath. Well, what does it matter, anyway? What do jackets matter when it comes to letting go, or – not to?
So he feels cut off. What else is new? He can hardly remember a time that he didn't. Not even with Hugo, not quite – though that was hardly Hugo's fault – but it never made a difference before, or at least he never letit, so why would it begin to now? He'd say death must have softened instead of hardened him, but that was too lousy a joke even for him.
What if, he thinks, rubbing his fingers because he can't help it, because he's freezing and even knowing he no longer has fingers to rub, not in a non-metaphysical sense anyway, the reflex is still there – what if he's taking the easy way out? Easier to stay, maybe, than to go with them, which would imply admitting that he wants to. There are maybe three people in that church he could admit that to. Possibly four, if Ilana's there, which somehow he doubts. And some of those he could tell – some of them named, say, Juliet – might not even want to hear.
He isn't sure how long he's been sitting there when it sinks in. The light in the church has died down to a glimmer, and then he doesn't know how he can be so certain they're gone, only that he is. They've left, all of them, and whatever he thought he was waiting for, or was expecting to feel when they did, he didn't feel a thing.
It's only when he picks himself up and walks away, past the wheelchair sprawled uselessly on the pavement, that he realizes there'll be nothing easy about this. Nothing at all.
He drives to class the next morning, same as always. Not because he wants to, but because he doesn't know where else to go. The teacher's lounge is out of coffee – no kidding, really – and the last thing he wants is to brew a fresh pot, but he ends up doing it anyway. They bought the cheap kind again, the kind he's always thought smells slightly of burnt rubber or some obscure chemical, but it's hot and blessedly tasteless going down. By the time he's done and is rinsing out his cup, his hands are actually steady.
Somehow, knowing the truth makes it all worse, not better. Alex's face is a bright blur at the back of the classroom, lighting up whenever he asks a question and, inevitably, she gets the answer right. It takes him three days to convince himself she is Alex, the real one, not some construct of his guilt-ridden mind – or at least, no more than he's a construct of hers. He doesn't know what it would mean if he is, if it would mean anything, and he feels faint even thinking about it, so he tries not to.
Later that week, he's picking up his briefcase from the locker room when, in an impulse, he finds himself looking for John's. The label just says "Locke", no first name, no title, and it feels like the most obvious thing in the world to peel it off, carefully, slide it into his pocket like it belongs there. No trace of the key, of course, but he's not even surprised when the door opens without one. Whatever secrets John Locke used to have, he supposes they're no longer secrets now.
There's not much inside except for a smattering of pens, an empty notebook and two pictures. One of a woman, smiling, the other of an older man. Neither of whom he knows, and he puts them back after a long moment. Shuts the door and, without warning, has to breathe around a sense of loss that hits harder than Desmond's punches did.
"Dr. Linus?" a voice says from the doorway, and of course that has to be Alex, showing up with the same unearthly timing that seems to run galore here. "Dr. Linus, are you all right?" And it's all he can do to make himself turn and smile, like he always does, rather than turn and run, like he wants to. She still doesn't know, and though he can't get through an hour without wondering what will bring it back for her, he's terrified of what will happen when it does.
Some nights, when he can't sleep, he thinks of Hugo. It's strange, but for all the time they spent together, parts of it are already slipping away. Parts like Hugo's voice, the way it had of taking the edge off his anger, his self-loathing, bit by tiny bit. Then, inevitably, he thinks of his father. How, returning from the church that night, he was fully prepared to go right back to hating him, only to realize he couldn't. He wonders how much of that is Hugo's doing, too.
It happens one night, as he walks home after history club. He didn't see Alex leave, so he's surprised to spot her just outside the school gates. Even more to see she isn't alone. There's a boy with her, a tall, gangly boy who looks vaguely familiar, a nagging kind of familiarity that he can't for the life of him put a finger on. And it's none of his business, really, none at all, but that doesn't stop him from moving in closer. Another few steps, and he's just on the other side of the fence. Close enough to hear them talk, and laugh, and see –
How he's kissing her, or trying to. Alex making a noise that's either a giggle or a yelp, starting to kiss him back, only to pull away again, mutter "Karl, not here, please –"
And then he's out from behind the fence and out on the street, and before he knows what got into him he has the boy's parka in both of his fists and is hissing, "You leave her alone, you hear me? You keep your hands off my –"
The first word that comes to him is white, because she is, pale and wide-eyed and small, looking for all the world like she's going to faint, or break into a run.
Then she says "Dad?" again, and he thinks he just might.
The boy – Karl; God, Karl – squirms in his grip, and he lets go, only to find he has no idea what it is he needs to do. Alex is watching him, white hands plucking at her sweater, looking shocked or disgusted or terrified, he can't tell which, and he doesn't even know how to take her in his arms, or even if he should.
"Alex," he says, or tries to. "Alex – I'm so sorry." He takes a step towards her, then, when that doesn't send the sky crashing down, blurts, "I was wrong, you know. I was trying to protect you. All I ever wanted was to keep you safe, and even that I couldn't –"
"I know," she whispers, and then he stares again.
"Well, that's not going to buy you anything, now, is it?" he gets out. "Honestly, Alex – you can't tell me that's even close to good enough."
"It's – close," she says, shakily. And then he's not quite sure if he's in her arms or she in his, but when he lets go, her face is wet, too, and oddly enough that doesn't even feel wrong.
"I can't come with you, Dad." Softly, like it's the most obvious thing that he'd ask. "Karl, my mum… They still need to –"
He glances aside at the boy, who clearly has no clue what the hell's going on. "I understand," he says, and he actually does. "Alex –" He's having some trouble seeing, he thinks. Or maybe it's just that he feels so much lighter suddenly, because if this is what breathing was like in life, he can't imagine he was ever able to stop.
"It's all right," she says, and for a moment he could swear she's smiling. "You go on, Dad. We'll see you around."
And there's no bright light then, nothing grand or spectacular or even remotely symbolic when he, finally, lets it take him away. But the look on her face is all the light he needs.