I'm not thrilled with this chapter.


He can't put this off any longer.

His first excuse was he didn't wanna do it first thing in the morning. "Better to let her have a good day," he lied to himself. Then he didn't wanna do it in the afternoon, not while she had the boy to take care of, but he's probably in bed now. James checks his watch: 8:15. Aaron should be in bed, right? He tries to remember. What were his kids' bedtimes? He can't remember. Curfew times he can remember. High school years they were midnight, or 1 AM - "only if you call us at midnight to tell us what you're up to." Bedtime? For a four-year-old? Jesus, that's been a long time. A whole quarter of a century since Jimmy was four.

He sees a light go off on the second floor. Seconds later, a light in the downstairs comes on. He's been sitting in his car, parked on the street, for at least an hour. God knows how many neighbors have walked, biked, or driven by. No one bothers him. He's just an old man in his wife's Lexus. Nothing remarkable or remotely dangerous. He waits a little longer, in case the upstairs light goes on again. Maybe Aaron will 'need' a glass of water or one last night-night kiss. Maybe his sheets will be too tight or his pillow too cold or any of the zillion excuses James' kids used to fight bedtime.

Speaking of a zillion excuses, he really can't put this off any longer.

He gets the guts to leave his car, cross the street, and knock quietly on her door. When she opens it, she looks more than a little surprised to see him.

"Hey," he says.

"Hi," she replies, looking behind him, scanning the street. He can see it in her eyes. What's he doing here? She's wondering right now. Instead of asking, she flirts with him. "Had trouble with the Halliburton, huh?"

His heart leaps. It's been ages since a thirtysomething hot chick flirted with him. Plus, it's Kate, and despite it all, he likes to think there's still some connection there. "Nah, keys worked just fine," he answers. "Mind if I come in?"

"Not at all," she says. She steps back to let him in, and she closes the door behind him. "Everything OK? With your family?"

She can see it. He's not here to reminisce about the good ole days or to sit and shoot the shit. Besides, what do they got in common anymore anyways? "They're all good, thanks for askin'."

Her eyes get big – nervous? Worried? Excited? Never really was able to tell with her. "Come on back," she says, leading him into her living room. On the way, he spies a framed photo of Jack with toddler Aaron on the swings, Jack behind him, gripping the chains. Shit. He feels sick. He should've let Jimmy do this, but he's not gonna let his son be the better man all the time.

She sits on the couch. He sits next to her. She stares at him expectantly. She doesn't ask or give him any opening. She waits.

"Uh. After you left last night, uh, someone came to visit us."


Christ, woman, just let me get through the story.

He's gonna talk around this part. Leave Ben out of it. He and Juliet were up into the wee hours trying to figure this all out. Who to tell what and what to tell who and are they really fucking going to let Jimmy go to Vanuatu? With Ben? That – staying up all night plotting with Juliet – now that's the good ole days. And just like the good ole days, he knows when to listen to Jules, who said, "Better not tell her Ben's involved, if you can help it."

"Who came to visit you, James?" Kate demands again.

"Hurley . . ."

"Hurley! ?"

"Now hold on just a minute, here, lemme talk. Not Hurley. Hurley sent a messenger."

"Hurley's alive?"

"Dammit, Freckles, let me finish," he barks. She glares at him. Had it always been like this with her? Fucking irritating? Like even a simple (or not-so-simple) conversation is some kinda contest? And he actually liked this? Thought it was hot? Hell, yeah, he did. Exhausting. What the hell was wrong with him back then? Just didn't know any better.

"Fine," she spits.

"Thank you. All right. Hurley's alive and well, and apparently he's now the Island's big kahuna. Figuratively and literally." He waits for her to laugh. That was a joke. No response. Fine, moving on. "Anyway . . ."

"If Hurley's alive does that mean . . ."

He holds up a hand. "Please," he says quietly. He knows what she's gonna ask, and that's what he's here for. He wishes she'd give him the chance to get through it. "Sun, Jin, and Sayid are all alive. They made it off the Island, and me and Jules" (and Jimmy, oh God, please let him be OK) "are gonna help 'em get back to civilization. But, uh, that ain't the reason I came here tonight. I came 'cause I need to tell ya . . ."

Her face crumples. She covers her eyes with her palm. She's shaking her head 'no' behind her hand. "I knew it," she says. "I knew he wasn't ever coming back, but I always held out hope."

"I'm so sorry," he says, taking her free hand. "I'm so sorry. We thought about maybe not tellin' ya, but figured you'd probably wanna know. Kate, I'm so, so sorry."

"Thank you," she says squeezing his hand, nodding. "I appreciate it. How . . ."

James shakes his head. "I dunno the details exactly. But apparently he was in charge before Hugo. He saved them all, Kate. They escaped 'cause of him. He saved them."

"Of course he did," she says quietly. She removes her hand from his. Tears stream down her cheeks, but she's quiet and still. He sits, feeling awkward and uncomfortable. He cannot even begin to imagine what she's thinking or how she's feeling.

And how's he supposed to act? Like she's his ex-lover? Someone he's had some damn fine (and kinky) sex with? In which case, he'd use her vulnerability to score. Or maybe he should act like she's a girl his son once dated. In which case, maybe a simple 'there, there' pat on the leg might do. Or then again, he could treat her like the first person he ever truly loved or like she's someone about his daughter's age. In either of those cases, he'd open his arms to her and let her sob on his shoulder.

He goes for something in between, putting an arm over her shoulders, and pulling her to him. It makes him think of Ana Lucia and Libby. At first, Kate sags into him, but that doesn't last long. She pushes off him, gathers herself in, and worries her hands. He notices for the first time that she's holding a Spiderman action figure. He wonders what she'll tell Aaron. He wonders . . . he wonders a lot of things.

Maybe she'll want to talk about it. Her memories, her life with him. "He live here with you? Jack?"

She's fighting tears. "Yep." Ok, maybe she doesn't want to talk about it.

Here's where Jack and Kate lived. They probably sat right here on the couch and read or talked about their days or did Sudoku together or made out while Aaron slept upstairs. Or . . . or, well, whatever the Doc and Freckles got up to when they were alone. It's kinda hard to imagine them bein' normal, not arguin' about jungle hikes or camp secrets.

Here's where they lived. Probably shoulda known that already. Funny thing, way back when, back when they realized they were stuck in the past for the long haul, he and Juliet used to joke about what would happen when Jack and the gang escaped the Island. They figured they'd stalk them, but good. Find out where they lived, what they did, who they did . . . Time came, and truth was, they didn't really care anymore. They made it back, great for them, and who and what they did was their own goddamn business . . . long as they eventually went back to the Island like they were supposed to. Jack had to go back so James could have the life he's had. He feels horribly guilty.

"I'm sorry," he tries again, lamely.

She says, "You already said that."

He wants to explain. "He came back to save us, and he did. Us, and Jin, too."

She shakes her head. "It's not your fault he's dead. It's mine. He practically begged me to go with him. And I chose to stay. I chose to stay, because . . . because my son was more important to me. You understand that, right?"

Is she asking him to absolve her of guilt, 'cause yeah, yeah he understands that. Why the hell she think he's been livin' in the past for nearly thirty five years? 'Cause his kids are the most important thing in the world, and this ain't 'the past' to them (ain't the past to him anymore, neither). He doesn't know what to do, other than to think Aaron's a lucky boy.

"He asked me to marry him," she says, apropos of nothing.

James knew that. He's known that since the summer of 1977, right around the time she was bein' born. Her whole life he's known the Doc's gonna pop the question. Time travel's a bitch.

She says, "You better get home. It's getting late." She stands up, and he follows suit. He wants to protest, he can stay, make her tea, make her a stiff drink, just sit with her, but going home sounds pretty great too. He wants to go home, and give his wife a hug, thank whoever's looking out for him that he doesn't understand what she's going through.

He hugs her at the front door. "You gonna be OK?" he asks. "You need anything? We can . . ."

She says, "You said you're working to get them back?"

He nods.

She says, "I want to help. I owe that to him. Whatever you need."

"All right, Freckles. All right."

He limps across the road (sittin' in the car all day did nothin' for his bum knee). When he gets in the car, he spies Juliet's gym bag on the back seat (that damn spin class) and a Babies 'R Us bag on the passenger seat (bunch of stuff off Rachel's registry). Tears stream down his face the whole ride home.

Is Jack dead so James could have his life?

Going home doesn't make it much better, until in the dark, approaching midnight, Juliet whispers to him, "Stop feeling guilty. He didn't go back for us. He went back for him."

Even though he'd never even told her exactly what was bothering him.

Juliet's just about had it with this too-hot minivan of tension. Why don't they get out? Why are they just sitting here on the tarmac? At least everyone looks as sweaty and overheated as she is. Not like those godawful hot flashes from back in the day. She's still somewhat surprised Miles survived that whole ordeal. James was adequately solicitous and patient. Miles, on the other hand . . . "It's not that hot in here, Juliet, what's your problem?" Yeah, he's very, very, very lucky he survived.

The driver was sold as "very discreet," more than likely because he speaks no English. Miles had to habla Espanol at him to get him out here . . . to this even more discreet airport. She's lived in LA for close to 15 years now, and never knew this was here. She's reminded of eons ago, Rachel dropping her at the airport in Miami. She wonders how many other major metropolitan US cities also boast Secret Other Air Terminals.

Miles and James worked out all this airport, transportation, jet stuff. Kate's been working up a cover story and paying out gobs of LaFleur money to an adoption attorney to get custody of Ji Yeon worked out. Juliet's lined up, interviewed, and secured a private medical facility for Jin's recuperation. All ducks in a row. Now the plane has to get here. Please, please, please, please.

WHY? Why had she agreed to this? Ben has Jimmy in his clutches. Why? Because she trusts Hurley. Because she shot Jin. Because she's had this amazing, fabulous and mostly happy life, and she can't sit around and let her friends die in Vanuatu? Or Espiritu Santo, or wherever the hell that is? Jimmy would know. Jimmy does know. Please, please, please, please.

They see the plane circling the runway, making its approach for a landing. Please, please, please, please. She takes James' hand. Please.

Miles incessantly drums on the dashboard with a rolled-up jet rental manifest. It's annoying. It's because he's nervous, too. Not as nervous as she is. There's no way anyone can possibly be as nervous as she is.

The plane lands safely. Kate practically has her nose pressed against the window glass. Juliet realizes Kate saw Sun and Sayid only a year ago. How this hasn't dawned on her yet . . . she's been preoccupied with the fact that BEN has her SON.

James opens the door to the van and steps out onto the tarmac. She follows him. Kate and Miles pile out soon after. The air is fresh with a light breeze. It's refreshing. Why didn't they do this sooner? Why'd they sit so long in the stuffy, hot minivan of tension? Because they were all too nervous to move.

The door to the jet opens. Ben is the first out. He hurries off to meet with his "emissaries," as he called them, stationed at the jetport.

Sayid comes next. James makes a face that's a half grimace, half smile. Those two have a complicated history. Richard comes next, stepping backwards, carefully down folded steps to the tarmac. Juliet's pretty sure her face is half grimace, half smile.

The reason for his cautious backward stepping becomes obvious. He's carefully toting Jin's stretcher. Jin looks gray, but Richard seems to be talking to him. Next is someone who looks vaguely familiar, carrying the other end of Jin's stretcher. Then Sun, and Juliet has so much she wants to tell her, but . . .but . . .

Jimmy's out last, ducking through the small jet door, leaping to the ground, searching them out. James gets to him first, enveloping him in a huge bear hug. James holds tight, his head sagging against Jimmy's shoulder, and any second now, he's going to start with the manly backslapping, and the virile hair ruffling, the "I'm-too-manly-to-give-hugs-to-other-guys" hug. It never comes. He keeps holding onto his son, until Jimmy sees her lurking.

Jimmy pushes James away. "Hey, Mom," he says, like no big deal.

"How was Vanuatu?" she asks, no big deal. Then starts to cry. She hugs her son. She hangs on real tight. Ben didn't take him. Hurley wouldn't let that happen. He didn't.

She notices a light tugging at her sleeve. She turns to see Sun. "I need to go with Jin. I wanted to say thank you. We will see you soon?"

"Count on it," James answers for her.

Sun's hand flies to her mouth. "Sawyer!" she gasps.

"At your service," he smiles and mock salutes. She hugs him.

"Thank you for taking care of Jin," she says. That was so long ago, or a year ago, depending.

"Sun!" Kate calls from across the tarmac. The security gate swings open, and the ambulance they've arranged creeps in, lights flashing, sirens silent.

"That's Jin's ride," Jimmy says to Sun.

"Go with Jin," Juliet says to her. "We'll see you in a bit."

They watch them leave. Jimmy says, "I'm beat, Mom. Can I crash at your place for a few days?" He looks rumpled, unshaven, eyes bloodshot, tired. He looks like his father once did. Never thought that before.

"Absolutely," she says.

It took about three bags of IV fluids, but Jin's revived. The doctor thinks it should only take a round or two of antibiotics before he starts regaining his strength. Barring no setbacks, he'll be out in ten days. He is greatly invigorated by and gets great merriment from joking about their age-related maladies. Their hair – white, gray, and bald – seems to be Jin's greatest source of amusement.

"Ain't lookin' so hot yerself, Super Jin," James remarks.

But then the weirdness fades. They're together again, smiling, laughing, gossiping, catching up on thirty two years (or one). The weirdness doesn't fade with Sun and Sayid, though. They sit to the side, laughing where appropriate, listening in, on the outside of inside jokes. They make Juliet self-conscious, and she finds herself sitting on her hands, not using them to express herself. She halfway wishes she'd kept dyeing her hair.

When James gets up to get them coffee, it gets weirder, even more uncomfortable. He bends down with a hand on her shoulder. "You want two creams, no sugar?" She nods up at him, and he gently pats her back, leaves his hand there, kisses her on top of the head. Really, really, really innocuous. And yet, Sayid and Sun stare the whole time, and when Juliet darts her eyes that way, she notices they both have their mouths hanging slightly open.

He patted me on the back and kissed me on the head! Trust me guys, you ain't seen nothin'.

Jin's got to get over the age thing, the other two have to get over everything. It's awkward.

Kate swoops in to the rescue with a pile of paperwork. Juliet's so proud of the work she's done to get Ji Yeon back to them. Is that weird? To feel proud of Kate? Kate, who was once (or twice, technically) her romantic rival? That's weird, isn't it? But she doesn't really think of her as a former romantic rival. She's someone her daughter's age. She's someone her son once dated. And Juliet is proud of her. Jack would be proud of her, she feels sure of that.

Kate sits at Jin's bedside, right next to Sun, and she's methodically and carefully explaining everything. Miles is in the men's room. Juliet smiles and nods awkwardly at Sayid, sitting in the corner. James returns with the coffee, sits next to her and takes her hand, rubbing the back of it with his thumb. Sayid shakes his head in wonderment.

And it dawns on Juliet. She's so happy they're safe, happy they're going to get their lives back. She's thrilled she could have some part in getting that for them. But, with the exception of Jin, they're just people she knew for a few months more than thirty years ago. She wishes them well, but they aren't her people. She needs to get home.

Jimmy's there, sleeping. She's going to make him his favorite dinner, and she needs to bake a lemon pound cake, his favorite dessert. She thinks she should've probably already made the pound cake, but she would have burned it for sure while she was still worried about Jimmy. Maybe she should get Rachel and Anson to come for dinner, too. That baby boy will be here any day now. Although, is it terribly wrong of her to secretly hope he makes Rachel wait a few extra weeks? Turnabout's fair play.

She should stay here for a little longer, though, right? Is that the right thing to do? Aren't they settled in enough? Is it strange that she doesn't care as much as she thinks she should?

"Well!" James finishes off his coffee and slaps his thighs, interrupting her reverie. "Listen, folks. These old bones have had enough for today. So me and Jules are goin' home. Ain't young and spry like you folks, or we'd stick around longer. See y'all around."

He gets up, bends down to give Jin a hug, hugs Sun and Kate, gives Sayid a manly handshake. Juliet follows suit, although she skips the manly handshake with Sayid, giving him a polite hug instead.

On his way out the door, James asks Miles, "Need a ride, Oda Mae?"

Miles shakes his head. "Gave Claudia a ring. She's coming to pick me up."

Juliet realizes she was a good bit more excited to have Claudia back in her life than any of these people. She never accidentally shot Claudia during a time-travel mix-up for one thing. But also? Claudia's aged about twenty five years since Juliet saw her last. She doesn't feel nearly as self-conscious about the way she looks. And speaking of self-conscious, Claudia doesn't stare at Juliet funny when she and James share a kiss or when she brushes the hair off his forehead.

On the way to the parking lot, she asks James, "You need me to drive? Is your knee bothering you? You OK?" He did just make a fuss over his old, achy bones.

He laughs. "Fine. All that back in there, about the old bones? Just an excuse. Look, I'm happy they're all OK, but they ain't my people anymore. Let's go home to our people."

June 24, 2009

Juliet's exhausted sigh comes out more like a groan as she collapses to the couch, propping her shoe-clad feet on the coffee table (one of her cardinal rules – no shoes on the furniture, but holy cow, she's tired). She lolls her head back to rest on the couch. "Was it always that exhausting?"

"We were thirty years younger," James calls from the kitchen

They spent the whole day babysitting little Evan. He slept a good bit, but always in one of their arms. Every time they tried to put him down, he wailed. Rachel said it was OK to let him cry, but they're two old softies, and couldn't bare that. He's only a little more than 10 pounds, but you try carting that around all day and see how you feel.

"You realize he's the same size Jimmy was when he was born?" James pointed out about three hours in, when she was already complaining about her back.

"I was thirty years younger," she answered.

He was sweet and smooth and baby-smelling. He pooped and he spit up, and he snuggled in their arms. Then he got fussy and loud and inconsolable at 4:30. Oh yeah, she'd forgotten about this time of day. His parents got home at 6, and his grandparents handed him off and beat feet. Now she's going to sit all night with a heating pad on her back. Sixty seven is kind of a pain in the ass. Beats the alternative, though.

"Don't look. Gotta surprise," James approaches the couch with his hands behind his back. "Close your eyes." She complies. She hears what sounds like the hiss of air escaping a beer can. "Open 'em," he orders. She does. He's handing over a Dharma beer.

She laughs, accepting the can. "Where? What. . . where did you . . ."

"Turns out, there's like a big warehouse of Dharma shit, and Hugo owes me a favor. So, I had him send four six-packs. Cheers." He bumps the top of her can with the bottom of his. "Happy anniversary."

It snuck up on her. June 24. Thirty five years since they landed in the past. She's lived this string longer than she lived the other. Passed that milestone a couple of years back. She kisses him. He tastes like beer, but only a little bit. He tastes like him. She feels like she can't stop kissing him, but he grunts as he lowers himself to the couch.

"Damn knee," he grouses, causing her to laugh. They. Are. So. Old.

She takes a sip of beer, crinkling her nose. "How'd we drink this stuff? It's horrible!"

"We don't got to do it often. Way I figure it, we each drink one a year, on June 24. That's why I got as many as I did. Lifetime supply!"

She does the math. Twenty four beers, two of them. Twelve years. That doesn't seem like enough time. She leans in to kiss him again, murmuring "I hope we outlive our supply," against his mouth.

She will.