To the Lighthouse

(A/N: Takes place during "Lighthouse," 6x05. Also, Cloudhead made some excellent suggestions and I've added those.)

Hugo Reyes picked his way over the leaf-strewn jungle path with care, stopping now and then to consult the inky instructions scrawled across his forearm. That Jacob dude was mysterious, but he gave good directions, and so far Hugo had no trouble following them. They were going to a lighthouse, Jacob had said. Hugo was to bring Jack there, for some reason which Jacob didn't explain. But the dead didn't have to explain themselves, did they? Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't, and Hugo, even with all his experiences with the dead, never knew which it was going to be.

It felt weird, though, to be up in front leading while Jack Shephard followed behind him, invisible and unspeaking. Usually it was Jack who led and Hugo who traipsed behind, but not on this bright, sunny mid-day under a green screen of ferny branches, as bird calls overhead made for an almost deafening chorus.

Hugo saw Kate before Jack did. She sat stream-side, taking a deep drink, mopping her brow in the sun's heat. Then Jack stepped on a twig, which startled her. She whirled around, pointed the gun at Jack, and then gave a wild, callous laugh. "I almost shot you."

Hugo froze. He hated gun-play. He'd seen too much of it in the old neighborhood in East L.A. Kate clambered up the stream's bank, giving Hugo a passing nod and a smile, but her eyes were on Jack.

"I'm not going back to the Temple," Kate announced to them in no uncertain terms. "I'm going to find Claire."

Hugo's heart beat faster. There were things you had to do, and things you wanted to do. And there were things you hadn't done, and those were the worst of all, especially when you saw someone else ready to strike out on their own and do something you should have, as hard or as impossible as that task might seem. Because Claire had to be somewhere around here, didn't she? If she was alive at all, that is. Hugo's mind raced, and he was just about to call out to Kate, to break the trajectory upon which he'd been set by Jacob's words, words which had set a course written on his arm so deeply that it might have been carved there in blood.

Hugo didn't, though, because right there on his left side stood Jacob himself, so close as to almost touch. No warmth came from Jacob's body, nor any sound of breath. Kate and Jack continued to talk, halfway between the path and the stream, ignoring Hugo and his invisible companion entirely.

Jacob placed his finger over his lips, shushing Hugo with the gesture. In a warm voice, Jacob said, "Don't let them know I'm here. Because while they can't hear me, if you answer, they'll certainly hear you."

When Hugo gave a brief nod of understanding, Jacob went on in the same reassuring voice, "Kate will find her. But she needs to go alone."

Something small and fragile broke inside of Hugo, piercing him with sharp and glassy splinters of regret. Claire was here. She was really here. And she had been all this time. Then the thought sprang into Hugo's mind unbidden, tinged with regret and even a bit of resentment, even though he didn't really want to think about it. Had Jacob known this all along?

At once, as if Jacob could read what was in Hugo's heart, Jacob looked away, abashed. In that instant, Hugo knew that Jacob was neither god nor angel, but a man, one who despite his enormous power also suffered failure and weakness.

Jack insisted that Kate to go with them. She could look for Claire later. After this errand. After the lighthouse.

I don't think so, dude, Hugo mouthed without sound. His broad face, normally so open and sunny, clouded and darkened. Another time, three years before, Jack had promised to go back for Claire. "Right after we drop these folks off at the freighter," Jack had said at the time. It hadn't worked out that way, though.

Then, when Jack said to Kate, "The people at the Temple said that something happened to her," Hugo turned to face Jacob with a wild look, eyes blazing. He started to shake, and was about to break his silence by demanding to know what Jack was talking about, what happened to Claire.

Jacob rested a hand on Hugo's shoulder and said, "Don't worry." There was neither warmth in the touch, nor any pressure at all, just a faint breath of reassurance, light as air.

Jack continued to implore Kate. But Kate was adamant and looked away, so Jack raised his voice, still ignoring Hugo.

Jacob said to Hugo in a firm, final tone, "Kate has to go very soon." Hugo nodded and averted his eyes as Jack and Kate climbed up the embankment to the path. When Hugo glanced over, Jacob had vanished.

It was up to Hugo to end it. Jack wasn't one who liked being contradicted, but Hugo said to him anyway, "Dude, Jacob said just you and me. She's kinda not invited." He hated the look Kate shot at him then, a piercing, painful dart full of hurt.

How could he have said that to her? Kate had visited him in the hospital when no one else would. She held his hand when he cried because he couldn't take it anymore: the incessant voices, the apparitions, the invisible chorus that accused and harangued him and never let up. Once, she had his back. She'd been there for him. And now he was dumping her, just like that.

Because Kate did want to go with Jack to the lighthouse. Just like Hugo, she had her own path, but neither she nor Hugo really wanted to follow the roads set out for them, because these roads were hard, and who knew where they might lead? Any excuse was welcome. Kate gave Hugo another bitter look, and this one hurt even worse. Of course Kate should be going off with Jack. After all, they were engaged, in love, right?

And if anyone should be going after Claire, it should be Hugo. But he couldn't, because of the directions written on his arm, sending him on a mission to an unknown place, to do something he didn't understand.

Hugo stood helpless and clumsy. Of course he cared about finding Claire. He wanted it more than anything. If only he could explain, but there wasn't time. Hugo said nothing, just stood like an impassive obstacle on the path, waiting for her to leave. Finally Kate lost the unspoken battle of wills. With a tiny toss of the head, and a tone of small pained pride, she said to Jack, "It's OK. You two just go."

At that moment Hugo wanted to abandon Jack, leave the route marked out for them, and join Kate on her possibly hopeless mission. But even though Jacob no longer stood by his side, the weight of Jacob's intentions draped over Hugo's shoulders like a mantle of lead. Kate's retreating figure had long disappeared into the dappled green shadows before Jack and Hugo reluctantly turned back to the appointed path and trudged on once more, to the lighthouse.

(the end)