Four months. She had been living in the Dharma Initiative for four months.
Drinking. She'd been… partaking a little too much most nights for the last two weeks. Not in a way that impeded her ability to function; to show up and be proficient at her work as a mechanic. No, not that. Just enough to make her mornings a little difficult. Just enough to get her mind to that place every night. Where it was possible for her to contort her brain. To see things in a positive light, to smile and feel content. To feel happy.
Sure, people would say that being buzzed isn't really feeling happiness. She'd probably even say that herself, in the light of day. But those moments, after a couple of glasses of Dharma Merlot, where she could take a deep breath and it felt like there was no weight pressing her down; it felt good. She felt that there was nothing that was impossible. It was not the same as feeling that anything was possible, but it was close.
She was a woman of science. There was a reason for things that happened, whether it be an engine firing or a person feeling happy. Cause and effect. A certain variable could trigger a known chain of events. It all came down to a series of chemical reactions in the brain. She wasn't so cold and unfeeling as people thought. She did not discount relationships, people, emotions and the power they had. But she knew that the root of it was chemistry. And just as people thought she was an ice queen for appearing aloof and detached, she thought it was foolish to disregard this aspect of life – the science of the brain.
Cold. Yes, most people probably thought she was a cold and unfeeling person. She was aware that she had withdrawn into herself. If she seemed cold and calculating, well, it was because she had indeed made a calculation. She needed to adapt. To keep going, to move forward and not be rendered immobile by grief and fear, she needed to detach. And so she did appear distant to those who did not truly know her. And if she ever let herself feel despair, it was often because there was no such person. Not here anyway. Not now. It was all too much. Even if she didn't need to hide her real identity from those around her (she was, after all, about 5 years old? – but that was something she tried not to think about), it was too much. Even to herself, she could only think about the last 3 years – more than 3 years – in pieces. Yes, it was all too much.
Sometimes she wanted to write it all down. To put the last 3 years on a piece of paper, fold it up, and give it to someone. It didn't even matter who it was. To have it all there, on just a piece of paper, and to give it to another person. Then there would be someone who knew. It would be a relief to have someone else know. Just the facts. She knew it was impossible for anyone to understand, just as it would be impossible for her to understand exactly what it was like to be somebody else. But to have someone else know the story, what had happened, maybe she wouldn't feel so stifled.
But it was still too much. And maybe the glow of a couple of glasses of wine was not "true" happiness, but if it elicited the same reactions, if a different catalyst could trigger the same effect, then what was wrong with that? So she allowed herself three weeks of drinking a few glasses of wine each night, while James was on the evening shift working security. After three weeks, she would be more productive, make better use of her time.
Now that she had time and space, she was using these three weeks of nights to take a deep breath. To let go for a few hours. She didn't need to be on alert at all times, like she was with the Others. She wasn't jumping through time anymore. There were no more flaming arrows or men with machetes threatening to cut her hand off. After all of that, after the years of… but she can't think about that.
Things were finally calm. She had a job. She lived in a house and was part of a community. Sure, the Dharma Initiative had some projects going on that filled her with a sense of dread, but they were nice people for the most part. There was no kidnappings, no violence, no talk of Jacob, no espionage. There were of barbecues and picnics and dances instead of clandestine meetings and interrogations. She didn't need to be constantly on edge.
She had a team. For once, she wasn't an outsider. She wasn't the new recruit or the spy. Or the double agent who no one really trusted. Her team was defined and secure. And she trusted them. It was easy enough to bond over the shared experience of jumping through time, but she found that over the past few months that she genuinely enjoyed their company. Jin's English was improving and however rocky their past was, he had come to trust her. Even like her. She was his best and favorite tutor. She knew he thought about Sun and their baby constantly. She did not know that he found it a comfort to be near Juliet, not just because he considered her a friend now, but also because she was a connection to his wife and daughter. She had helped Sun. She had seen his daughter. On the monitor that day, she had seen the daughter that he did not know if he ever would. She was so close to his baby. She knew.
As abrasive and annoying as she had found Miles to be at times, she was glad he was around. He had a good sarcastic sense of humor but he was more thoughtful than he let on. He would make fun of Jin's malapropisms and grammatical errors, but she noticed that he noticed when Jin was having an especially tough day. The days when Jin was quiet and withdrawn just happened to be the days Miles would suggest fishing lessons or going to the rec room for a game of pool and some beer.
Dan had left on the sub that she intended to be on. James was right. The things she wanted to go back to did not exist yet. But she was also right. That in itself was not a reason not to leave. Her instinct, after searching for years for a way off the island, was to jump at the first opportunity to leave. But she was glad that James was there that night, if only to make her slow down. She was a scientist. She needed to pause, to analyze. To think. She wanted to get off the island. That was a fact. She had a means of getting off the island – the sub. But then what? It was the 1970s. She would have no identification. She wouldn't be able to be a doctor. She was alarmed to think of the job prospects for a woman on her own in the 1970s. Could she even support herself? Would she look for her family? Would it be possible to be near them, even to see them, without her heart breaking? It wouldn't work. If she ever wanted to get back to what she wanted to get back to, she believed that the chance would come here. This is what she told James when he asked if she was still planning to leave. He was happy she was staying, but he didn't say anything. She looked so sad when she told him.
She and James shared one of the 2 two-bedroom houses they had been given. They didn't really discuss this; it just seemed like the most obvious way to split into groups of two. James and Juliet seemed to be the two co-captains of their little team. It was a little awkward at first, but not as awkward as they expected it might be. The fully stocked bookshelf in the living room provided the first icebreaker. From there, they didn't have a hard time conversing with one another. They were both intelligent and witty. One of their favorite ways to pass the time was to make verbal psychological profiles of their fellow Dharma Initiative enrollees – what kind of life they came from and how they ended up in the DI. It was a way to communicate, to talk about what they understood, without talking about themselves. They shared the housework, took turns cooking and cleaning. Even if one of them wasn't home, they never prepared a meal that wouldn't serve two.
They knew people talked, and for a while, they would try to act distant and formal with each other in public, and be social at the DI's many gatherings. They gave up on that pretty quickly. He didn't want to talk to Rosie at the party. He wanted to talk about Rosie with Juliet over a bottle of beer at the little table to the side of the dance floor. Juliet found that it made her life a little easier in the Motor Pool when the guys noticed that she was always with James. And if she enjoyed his company and he made her laugh more than she thought anyone else ever had, then all the better.
James came home from work early on the second to last night of Juliet's three weeks of unrestricted Merlot holiday. It was close to 7:00PM, and she was on glass 2. She was thankful that it was Friday and she had the next day off. It's socially acceptable to drink on Fridays after all, even by yourself at home. Although technically, she was not in the house. It was warm night, with a slight breeze she could feel coming from the beach. She decided to sit out on the porch.
"Startin' without me, Blondie?" he asked as he sauntered up the steps.
"Are you allowed to drink on the clock, James?"
"Scheduling geniuses had too many people on for tonight, so they cut me loose."
"Well in that case, there's an open bottle in the kitchen," she said as she took another sip.
"I like the sound of that. I'm gonna get changed and grab a glass. You need a refill on my way out?"
"Why not. I have tomorrow off, right?"
"You and me both, Sunshine," he grinned as he went inside the house.
James emerged a few minutes later in jeans and a T-shirt, carrying the open bottle of Merlot and another unopened one. Juliet watched as he sat on the chair next to her and raised an eyebrow, acknowledging the second bottle.
"Hey, it's a weekend right?" he said. "Plus, we can call this a celebration."
"What are we celebrating?"
"I think this is the longest I've ever held down a steady, legit, job. I'm a damn pillar of the community!" he explained as he filled his glass.
"Well then, congratulations are definitely in order."
She turned and they clinked glasses before each taking a long sip. They talked about their DI jobs for a while, knocking back a few more glasses as the sun went down and the wine warmed them from the inside out. They were quiet for a while, until James spoke.
"So you were a bigshot doctor, right? Must be a big change now, being a grease monkey."
It was the first time he had directly asked her a personal question. It wasn't even a personal question, per se. Just a question about her life before. Real life.
"I was more of a researcher. But medicine and mechanics are more similar than you might think. It's all basically trying to figure out what's going wrong in the system. I would think your career change is more of a leap," she said, shooting him an amused grin.
He let out a laugh at that. "Touche." He paused for a moment. "You know what the crazy thing is? I kind of like it. Here, I mean. I never had a normal life in the real world, but here… I don't know. I thought I'd be going crazy with the regular job, staying in the same place, living in a yellow house..."
"With someone who cooks half your meals, and does more than half of the cleaning…" she joked.
He laughed again and added, "Never had a roommate before either."
"Me either. Not since college anyway." She paused. "I guess I lived with my sister for a while."
She had mentioned her sister before, but she never offered many details about her. James was definitely curious about her life, and that included her sister. He came close a few times to just asking her to tell him about Rachel (he did get that name out of her one night), but something in her expression when she talked about her made him hesitant to push.
He had had enough wine to give him courage, and he took Juliet bringing up Rachel as an opening. He decided to proceed cautiously.
"So did you two get along, living together, or were you pulling each other's hair out by the end?" he asked, in a light tone.
It was dark, but the light coming through one window of the house hit on her face as she turned her head toward him after his question. She was smiling, he could see, and in that second, it flashed through his brain, She is beautiful. And just as his lips curled upward and mirrored her own smile, he noticed that her eyes had filled with tears.
"I'm sorry, I…" but he had no idea what to say after that. He knew that he was sorry for whatever happened that hurt her, but he had no earthly idea what had caused her tears. He thought about retreating, maybe making some joke about having the social skills of Phil to change the subject and ease the tension. But he knew that she wasn't going to just walk up to him one day and tell him about her life. And he truly wanted to know about her life.
She had had enough wine to let down her guard. Enough wine to want to talk. And while she knew, somewhere in her mind, that she might regret talking in the morning, it felt easy right now. The wine had relaxed her. The dark made her feel secure. She could trade the protection of silence for that of the dark. She took another sip from her glass and let go of the filter in her brain that kept everything inside, piling up and getting heavier and heavier.
"No. It's fine," she began. Still with tears in her eyes, but with a tiny laugh at the irony of his lighthearted question, "It's just that she didn't have any hair by the end."
And so that was it. The gates opened, the match lit, the words spoken. She talked about her sister and the cancer; and that led to the baby – Julian; and that led to her work and being recruited by Richard; and that led to the island; and that led to Ben; and that led to Goodwin; and that led to everything up until they found themselves alone, together on the beach watching the smoke rise from the freighter.
He listened quietly, letting her talk without much interruption. That wasn't to say he wasn't completely engrossed in her words. She was brutally honest. When she talked about the deal she made with Ben when Jack had him in surgery, how she killed Danny, he tried to reassure her that he had saved his life and Kate's.
"I killed him, James. I did it so that I could go home. I took a man's life so that I could get something I wanted. I'm not… It's something that I did. I just… You understand, right?"
It wasn't an accusation. She wasn't looking for absolution from him. She didn't want him to tell her she did the right thing or make any sort of justification for what she did. He looked in her eyes and understood that it was a plea. And he did understand. It was not a matter of guilt, remorse, desperation, regret, rationalization. It was all of these things and none of them. It was so overwhelming. It wasn't possible to put into words. Yes, he understood. He met her eyes, they both felt it. It was something they both understood. He nodded his head slowly, and she continued.
She didn't regret it the next morning. When she got out of bed after sleeping in a little later than she figured a responsible adult should, she made her way to the kitchen and found James making eggs and bacon. They sat down to eat, and she felt ok. She felt better. Lighter.
When she finished eating she started clearing the kitchen to do the dishes. "Thanks for breakfast, James."
"I figured we could use some grease to soak up some of that wine from last night," he smiled as she laughed.
"You know you really shouldn't be drinking," he smirked. She looked over at him quizzically. "I mean, what are you, three years old? You ain't gonna grow right if you keep this up." She laughed again and said she was a very advanced child. "When is your birthday, anyway?"
"February 10," she responded. "When's yours?"
"Three weeks from today, actually."
"So should we get a piñata and start planning pin the tail on the donkey? When do you think we need to order the clown by?"
"Oh god no. No clowns," he said with a shudder.
"I had a clown at my 8th birthday party. I cannot imagine what my parents were thinking."
James smiled wistfully, and immediately, Juliet caught on. He knew that she had read his file. That she knew. He saw something in her face, the second she realized where his mind was after she said that. She looked at him with an expression he couldn't quite read. It wasn't pity, but she was clearly emotional. And she wasn't trying to mask it. This alone made him feel better. She took a breath and stepped closer to him. She put a hand on his arm and said "OK. Your turn tonight. I'll pick up some more wine on my way back from Amy's."
"You already read my file," he countered.
"Yes, but those were other people's words. Not yours. Fair is fair, right?"
"You better come home with three bottles, at least."
And with that, she waved to him and walked out the door. He paused for a moment and thought. He meant what he said about liking this life. The job, the house, the community, the roommate. He liked the way it felt when he said those words to Juliet – "come home." And when she smiled. And he knew that she would come home (with three bottles of wine for them).
He took a long nap that afternoon. He couldn't shut his brain off the night before. Couldn't stop thinking about Juliet's story. Not just the story, but the way she told it. He had just taken a shower and started making dinner when Juliet walked through the door. He turned around when he heard her come in and broke out into a huge smile when he saw that she had four bottles of DI Merlot in her arms.
"Well done, Blondie."
"We cannot drink four bottles of wine in one night, James."
"Why the hell not? I got tomorrow off. So do you."
She rolled her eyes. He knew she wouldn't push him to talk. Her pronouncement earlier in the day was an invitation and not an order, he knew that. And as much as he was wary to talk about his past again, he knew that he would. That he wanted to. He wanted to tell her like she told him. He didn't know how to tell her this, so he said, "Besides, I think you and I have the most colorful pasts in this whole damn place. Four bottle colorful."
She took the corkscrew out and opened the first bottle as James finished making dinner. He informed her that he hadn't left the house all day. She gave him an update on Amy and the other DI folks she had seen that day. They had emptied one bottle by the time they'd finished dinner and cleaned up the kitchen. Juliet went to the bathroom after the dishes were done and found that James was out on the porch when she returned. She grabbed her glass and the newly opened wine bottle and went to join him. They had only been sitting for a few minutes when James started talking. He talked for a long time and didn't hold anything back, only pausing to pour and retrieve more wine. The third bottle was empty by the time he was done. Just as she had, he ended his story on the beach that day, and joked that they should be drinking rum.
"Quite a sordid story, huh? I… I'm not a good person, Juliet. I'm an asshole. Worse, really."
He looked up at her. He had told her everything. He used people, hurt people profoundly. There was no point in hiding now. She held his gaze. He understood now why she didn't want him to try to make excuses or justifications for anything she had done. It wouldn't help. He didn't want that. He didn't want forgiveness from her, or pity or sympathy either. None of that would help. That wasn't it.
She finally broke eye contact and he saw her reach down and begin opening the fourth bottle. He started laughing, his chuckle turning into a nearly uncontrollable laughter as she smiled and set the cork next to her chair.
"I knew you'd come around," he managed to get out as she filled her own glass, set it down, and then picked up his to fill. He stopped laughing as she finished pouring. She set the bottle down and held his glass. He reached his hand out to take the glass from her, and turned his head to look at her when he felt not the glass, but her own hand in his.
She lightly squeezed his hand and gave him a small smile. He reciprocated, and when she let go of his hand and gave him his glass, he turned his head forward and looked up into the night sky. This time, the eyes that filled with tears were his own. He took a deep breath, exhaling some of the weight that had been pressing down on him for as long as he could remember.