This starts at the very beginning of Season 6. Slightly AU. You'll see. This is Chapter 1 of 3.
"Hey!" Kate calls out. "I thought I might've heard. . ." she begins, but James cuts her off.
"Juliet?!" he bellows at the hole. "Can ya hear me? Juliet!"
He glares at Kate. "I thought for sure . . ." she hedges.
An hour later, past hatch detritus, books, and board games and blenders and stationary bikes, they've reached the bottom of the hole.
"Probably like with Charlotte, man," Miles mutters. "We moved on and she stayed. Remember that?"
"Yeah, Miles. I remember that." James has never been more defeated, more dead, in his life.
The raft didn't do the trick for him. Helicopter neither. Ditto the sub. So the last thing he expects to get him off the Island is a duct-taped-together airplane. Then again, the Island did have a thing for strange shit like that.
They get settled in, get a hefty hush fund from Oceanic. Miles tiptoes around him, like he thinks James is a grenade set to detonate any minute. James don't say nothing one way or the other, so Miles fills the silences with chatter about his dad. "I had it all wrong. He was trying to save us. Mom didn't know it, but I don't get why she had to be so hard on him all those years. Never told me one good thing about him. Nothing." Blahblahblahblahblahblah.
"Listen, Enos," James interrupts. "I got some things I need to take care of. Now, you don't worry none about me, and I'll check in real soon." He leaves Miles with his mouth hanging open.
James knows he made it off the Island for a reason. Two reasons, actually. Last thing he's gonna do is slide back into a life of crime or hole up in a bar or eat the barrel of a gun. He won't disgrace Juliet's memory like that. He's better than that. He'll do what he's meant to do. Florida or New Mexico, though, that's the question. He'll start with Florida. It's a longer trip. That's a bit of procrastination, but he ain't perfect.
He buys a new set of wheels with his money and sets off across the country. In a diner east of Houston, he sees some overweight dude in a booth reading Carrie. James squeezes his eyes shut and fights back against the grief and rage and depression.
Three 'R. Carlsons' in Miami. It takes him two days to figure out the right one. He sits in his car on the curb in front of her house and wonders what the hell he's supposed to do or say. She'd wanna know, right? Can't live her whole life wondering. But does she need to know the truth? The absolute truth? Some of it? What part of it? And why's she gonna believe anything he has to say?
So, he gets the idea that Albuquerque is probably the better starting point. They know who he is there, at least. He'll try Miami once he's got his feet under him better. Back across the country he goes. The desk clerk at the motel in Jackson, Mississippi is a blue-eyed blonde, and James can't even look at her. His anger sparks for a second. How come she gets to live her life? She hands over his room key, one simple key hanging on a dark green plastic diamond with the room number, 815, heh, stamped on it in white. He fights back against the grief and rage and depression.
Not even an issue finding Cassidy - Kate texted him the address. He parks across the street.
He sees Cass and a little girl rush out the front door. Cassidy, well, it ain't even worth tryin' with her, he knows that, but then, tagging along right behind . . . Clementine. James lets out a ragged breath. That's his daughter. Right there, skipping across the front walk, jumping into the back seat of the car. They back out of the driveway and pass right by his car on the way out. His daughter. He wonders what the hell he's supposed to do or say. Follow them with his car? Wait for them to come back? Then what? Apologize? Explain what happened? Let Cass yell at him? Would she call the cops? Should he hand them money? Or . . . no, that would be crass, right?
Cass hates him. He should start in Miami. Rachel doesn't know him, which means she can't hate him. He can't deal with hate right now. Back across the country he goes.
He doesn't make it as far as Miami, is just through Orlando, juggling his keys, a cup of coffee, and a bag of peanut M&M's when he drops the keys. Some tall, skinny black guy reaches down to pick them up and hand them to him. "Thanks, man," James says.
"No problem. Got your back," the dude replies. James can't fight the rage and wants to hit someone, wants to do something, wants to yell at this J.J.-from-Good Times Good Samaritan. He takes a deep breath. He mutters "Dino-mite." He ignores the grief and rage and depression. He heads south for Miami, and then decides he needs to wait for Kate. She's working out all kinds of stuff with her parole and Claire and custody of Aaron and who knows when she'll ever get it cleared up, but when she does, he needs to bring her with him. She's a celebrity, so she'll be his "in" with Rachel. His "in" with Cass, too. He needs to wait for Kate.
This is not procrastinating. No. Nope, nope, nope. This is good planning.
He turns the car around. Back across the country he goes. Or starts to go. He pulls over for the night, finds a halfway decent motel with a bar across the street. He's a few drinks in when it dawns on him he's in Tallahassee of all fuckin' places. What a miserable shithole. He hates this place. Tonight, for the first night since he's been back, he doesn't stop drinking till the bartender makes him. He gives in to the grief and rage and depression.
He sloshes over to his motel room and throws shit. Kicks other shit. Pulls at his hair. WHO THE FUCK IS HE KIDDING? He can't do this. He can't. Maybe he was supposed to. Maybe she'd want him to, but he can't. He can't. He can't tell Rachel the bad news. He can't meet his daughter. He can't. Can't even sack up enough to meet an 8-year-old. Can't even meet his own damn daughter.
"God, Blondie, I'm so, so, so sorry. It should be you back here, not me. And I'm sorry I can't do what I'm supposed to. Can't even meet my daughter like I always said I's gonna. God, baby, I'm so sorry." He sobs himself to sleep.
He finds a diner the next morning. He leaves his sunglasses on. What the hell is he gonna do next? What's left for him? Absolutely fuckin' nothin'. Even the "wait for Kate" plan seems like a bad idea. Who knows how long he's gonna hafta wait for her, anyway, and then she's probably gonna be all tore up about Jack, which is understandable and all, but still he don't want to have to deal with it. That's what fucked everything up anyway, her and stupid Jackass.
All's he knows now is he's gotta get out of Tallahassee. He stares at a roadmap of the US. Maybe he should visit Jasper. "Where this all started, maybe where it'll all end," Locke said once upon a time (about something else entirely). What catches his eye, though, is that Ann Arbor is pretty much a straight shot north. Former HQ of the DI. He wonders what he could find up there. Maybe info on what happened to those folks. He knows Horace and Chang didn't make it out alive (or assumes they didn't), but he wonders if he could track down someone, anyone . . . Jerry, Bob, Alice, hell, even Radzinsky. Or the DeGroots, maybe. He could spill the beans about time travel. He could tell the truth. He could reminisce about the good old days.
Maybe it would take him just enough time to get his feet under him. Maybe someone he tracked down could give him a job. Maybe he could readjust to life. Maybe he could defeat the grief and rage and depression. Then maybe he could do what he knows he needs to do. Maybe then he could meet his daughter.
ONE WEEK LATER . . .
He finishes his beer. One of the bartenders (the short, stocky black guy, not the tall, good-looking woman) gives him a refill. James drinks some, depressed over another failed plan. It's relatively quiet here. It turns out that's because it's spring break, and the university students are away.
So much for Ann Arbor. So much for finding out anything here. What did he really expect, though? Coming here, looking for old DI members, ambushing the DeGroots. What did he really think was going to happen? He tried the university library reference desk. He studied old U-M yearbooks. He wandered the campus randomly asking older people. He staked out the various science buildings. He looked for names in the Ann Arbor phone book. So, it's not like he didn't try, just didn't accomplish jack shit.
It's just been another way to procrastinate, and he's running out of excuses to be here. He knows what he has to do. Should have done first thing. Albuquerque. Needs to meet his daughter. But he ain't up to it. Besides what use is he to her? Just some random dude dropping in to screw with her life. Maybe the best thing to do is leave sleeping dogs lie. Send money. But he knows that ain't right, and the longer he takes to make a decision, the more chance Cass'll give him hell for taking so long since he got back to show up anyway.
"Come here often?" a woman's voice startles him from his reverie.
He looks up to see the chick bartender in front of him, stacking clean pint glasses under the bar.
"I been here every day this week," he mutters. Once was a real ladies' man, now he finds out the lady bartender hasn't even registered his presence.
Except . . . "Yeah, I know. I was kinda making a joke." She shrugs. "So, what's got you down?"
"What makes you so sure somethin's got me down?"
She puts the last pint glass under the bar. She leans closer to him. "I'm a bartender. It's kind of like the first lesson of bartending school: gotta know when something's wrong with the patrons. So, let's hear it. Girlfriend dump you? Lose your job? Just found out MTV's cancelling TRL?"
He don't even know what that is. Adjusting his pop culture references to 2008 is gonna be as tough as adjusting to 1974. He looks up at her. She's good looking. Grief and rage and depression creep in. No, actually, just depression. It's depressing, because he's got zero interest. Zip. Zilch. Nada. And although having interest in some random chick right now would make him feel horribly guilty, he wonders how long it will last. Forever? It's depressing, and it's no way to live.
This gal, though, she's putting out some major "off limits" vibes, so at least there's that. Maybe she's got a boyfriend. Hell, maybe she's got a girlfriend, who knows. Whatever it is, it's abundantly clear: OFF LIMITS. Which means he can talk to her no problem.
"I'm tryin' to decide if I should go meet my daughter for the first time."
She leans on the bar, thinking for a second. She has pretty eyes. A shade or two bluer and they'd be as blue as Juliet's. Grief, rage . . . no, no, no. He fights it. NO. She stands up straight. "That's an easy one. Yes. Yes you should meet your daughter." She nods decisively. "Glad I could help. Don't forget to tip your server."
He laughs. "It's more complicated than that."
"I figured. How old is she?"
She smiles at him. "That's not complicated at all. Eight is so simple. Yes, meet her. Yes! Of course you should."
"She ain't the problem so much as her momma."
"Screw her momma," bartender gal declares. Then, "Well, not literally I mean. Already did that, right? Ba dum bum," she smacks the bar in time with her faux drumbeat. She laughs, and he can't help but join her.
"More ways than one," he admits.
"Can I tell you something?" she asks with a shy half smile. He nods. "When I was eight, my dad took me to this father-daughter dance, and I mean to tell you, he did the whole thing up. Came to the front door, rang the doorbell . . . of his own house! Brought me flowers, took me to dinner, the whole nine yards. My first date. One of my best dates, and all through high school and college, some guy'd take me out, be a dick, or rude, or just a pain in the ass, and I'd think back to how my dad treated me, and I'd kick the asshole to the curb. I know how I deserve to be treated. I have my dad to thank for that. What's your daughter gonna know, huh? That guys should treat her like crap? I'm thirty years old, and I still think I have my dad to thank for teaching me lessons your daughter's not gonna get."
"Well, now, that's sweet," James says. "Good for you and dear old dad, but it ain't so peachy keen with me and my girl. I did something unforgiveable to her mom."
"Nothing's unforgivable," she says. "Some things just require a lot more penitence than others."
He snorts. "They teach that crap at bartender school?"
"Nope, that's just something my mom says."
"Uh huh, yeah, that's nice and all, but I didn't knock up your mom and steal her life savings."
She cocks her head to the side, thinking. "Well, I haven't checked her bank account lately, but I'll give you that."
A couple across the bar catches her attention. She waves acknowledgement, but before heading off says, "Look, dude. You seem pretty miserable. Maybe it won't turn out perfect with your daughter, but it can't be much worse than it is for you right now. So just do it. Make fun all you want, but my mom is right. Start working on your penitence now. The sooner you do it, the easier it'll be."
She strides off to help the couple across the way. He watches them laugh and joke. He envies her easy manner and simple assurances. Her way of seeing the world, which has never been his way. Then again, he didn't have a mom to trot out homespun wisdom or a dad to make him feel important. And well, hell, don't he want that for Clementine? Ain't that more important than whatever shit Cass puts him through? It is. And he'll feel better about himself for doing it.
Nothing's unforgivable. Some things just require a lot more penitence than others.
He knows that's true, and what he has to make up for is going to require a LOT of penitence. Just because he's never taken advice from random bartenders' moms before, there's no reason not to start now.
No more procrastinating.
The next day he sets out for Albuquerque. This time for good.