Miles shakes his head in disbelief. How anyone could fall asleep while watching Speed is a mystery to him, but somehow Richard Alpert has managed to do so, just as he’s managed it with Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Much as Miles doesn’t want to admit it, the guy isn’t obsessed with movies the way the rest of the world is. Maybe it’s the jet-lag. Maybe it’s that Miles always starts the movie too late in the evening. Maybe it’s that after all that time spent on the island, Richard’s simply never going to be into sci-fi and action flicks; he’s a good sport, but it's obvious he'd rather be watching CNN.
Jim’s in bed, having gone up a couple of hours before with complaints of a stomach ache. Miles and Richard had just frowned at one another---they’ve only known one another for a few weeks, but already they’re having telepathic moments. In this case, it’s the shared knowledge that what Jim is really feeling is a desire to wallow. But by now, they know that sometimes they have to go ahead and let him.
And so, here Miles is, spending another night watching the end of a film all by himself while Richard snores adorably on the other end of the couch, eyelashes splayed out like fucking palm fronds. Not only has he turned out to be unexpectedly awesome, in his own quiet way, but he’s so easy to look at that it’s actually hard for Miles to concentrate on the film---on every film, every night. When he first got to the island, his eyes had almost fallen out of his head at the sight of Juliet and Claire, and he’d thought Jim and Jack were the best-looking guys he’d ever met… Then came 1954 and bam. Not only does the guy look good, but he’s been looking this good since 1860-something.
Jim wistfully refers to the place as ‘Nutjob Island’, but Miles has always thought of it as ‘Crazy Hot People Island’. Equal emphasis on the ‘hot’ and the ‘crazy’.
Not that anything’s ever come of it, of course. He’s always been on the sidelines of everyone’s ridiculous romantic angst. Given how most of the relationships he’s not only seen, but also heard about, have turned out, he sometimes consoles himself with the thought that it’s probably for the best.
A noise in the hallway interrupts his reverie, and he creeps out to investigate. It’s Jim, trying to be stealthy, but knocking his duffel against the wall as he picks up his shoes, like the tool that he is.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Miles whispers, directing the question at Jim’s ass, which is waving right at him.
Caught, Jim stands up and turns around, his eyes red and his face trying to be hard. “I’m sorry, Miles.”
Even besides the lack of nickname, Miles can tell this is serious. And it’s not like he hasn’t seen it coming. He’s known it for a couple of days now---Jim’s sad eyes, restless legs, increasing moroseness, bitching about the little details of their rented house---but he hasn’t wanted to admit it, can’t figure out how he’s going to deal with it. “Where are you going to go?”
Jim shrugs. “Dunno. Don’t matter.”
“Richard and I could come with you…” Miles offers. It’s been hard enough trying to imagine the rest of his life. Having to imagine it without his best friend is too much to handle.
But Jim shakes his head. “I need to be alone. I was always supposed to be alone.”
Miles walks up to Jim and punches him in the face.
“What was that for?” Jim asks, rubbing his cheek.
“Cut the emo bullshit, will ya?”
“It ain’t bullshit,” Jim counters, rubbing his cheek.
“What about me and Richard? You were just gonna leave in the night, with what? A note? What the hell kind of friend are you?”
This actually shames Jim, and Miles is glad at least he’s still shameable. “Something like that, yeah,” he mumbles.
Miles rolls his eyes but inside something him dies. He knows there’s no talking Jim out of it. Miles has to let him go. Whatever downward spiral he’s in, the only way out is for him to reach bottom and then come up again.
“We don’t need a loser like you anyway. Wait a sec, though.” Miles tiptoes back to the living room and grabs his wallet. He comes back and pours a few diamonds out of a small satchel and into his outstretched palm. “Here. Richard and I can get by on his bank accounts or wherever it is he gets all his cash from.”
Jim shakes his head. “I’m not taking your money.”
“This isn’t money, stupid. It’s diamonds. Look, if you don’t want to trade them in for cash, make them into earrings for all I care, but you’re taking them, so shut up, unless you want me to punch you in the nuts this time.”
“Okay okay. Thanks, Enos,” Jim says, and Miles smiles at the nickname, more attached to it than he has any reason to be. Jim reaches out his hand so Miles can drop the diamonds into his palm. In the same gesture, he pulls Miles in close, wraps his arms around him tight, and gives him a noogie. Miles, his nose buried in Jim’s shoulder, is overpowered by the guy’s cologne; it’s a good thing it’s such a godawful scent, because the only thing keeping him from crying is the nausea the stink is giving him.
Jim lets go of him and picks up his bag again. “Take care of yourself and ol’ Guyliner, okay?”
“Yeah, whatever.” Miles has to pretend to look down the hallway so Jim won’t see how badly this is breaking him up. He and Jim have always had a silent agreement: no mushy bullshit. Ever.
This is the hardest it’s ever been to keep it up, though.
“By the way,” Jim adds. “I think Alpert’s got a... Just let him down easy, okay?”
Jim’s half-joking, but Miles isn’t when he grits his teeth and admits, “Who said I was going to let him down at all?”
Jim looks at him hard, as if seeing Miles for the first time. Seriously, he says, “Didn’t know you swung that way, Enos.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what you get for not paying attention.”
They stare at one another, and Miles feels his whole body shake as Jim finally figures it out---now, when after three years it’s finally over. “Guess I need to be more observant,” he slowly drawls.
Miles watches him walk out the door and shut it behind him. He listens until he can’t hear the crunching of the gravel outside anymore.
When it’s silent again, he heads back to the living room. Richard is still passed out. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock roll to safety.
With no remaining excuse, Miles and Richard are at it like rabbits by the end of the week. And now that they’ve started, Miles can’t remember why they haven’t been doing this since day one. Apparently the person he’s been looking for has been there the whole time. Literally, the whole time. Miles has just been too busy crushing on or hero-worshipping or whatever it was with Jim to focus on what was right in front of him… or at least on the other side of the island.
Still, there’s an ache there, an emptiness that Jim’s absence has implanted, and it festers. As the weeks go by, the house begins to feel haunted, the extra space that a third person should occupy growing more and more oppressive. Richard isn’t threatened, but he also isn’t stupid.
“You miss him, don’t you?” he asks one night when Miles is laughing at some stupid, vaguely mean-spirited joke that Jim would have found hilarious and Richard never will.
“Yeah. But…” Miles doesn’t know how to say, But you have nothing to worry about, without, you know, actually making Richard worry, or without having to follow it up with the true but still unstated fact that he’s totally smitten with Richard and it’s scaring him shitless because he’s only ever been smitten with one other person before and all that got him was three years of watching the guy in question be in love with somebody else.
Richard kneads his shoulder, all understanding and wise and shit in a way that Miles can’t fathom and doesn’t think he deserves. “I know.”
A few days later, Richard announces that he wants to travel, and Miles says sure, because it isn’t like he has anything better to do. And heck, they’re rich. Why not? Plus, he has a feeling that watching Richard having to deal with stupid touristy stuff around the world will be pretty hilarious.
They go everywhere. They go to Disneyland; Richard doesn’t get it at all (neither does Miles, to be honest).They go skiing in Chile with all the rich South Americans, and Miles finds himself even more insanely turned on by the way Richard speaks Spanish. They go check out the pyramids in Egypt and wish they’d paid more attention to the hieroglyphics in the temple. They head to Seoul and make sure someone’s taking care of Jin’s kid. They go on a crazy hiking trip to northern Alaska, and the guides have no idea why the two of them laugh at the sight of a polar bear. They only intend to stay in Rome for a day, but fuck if they don’t fall in love and stay for a month, drunk on red wine and each other.
Miles starts to realize that maybe mushy bullshit isn’t so bad, after all.
He tries to call Jim a million times, but for the first few months, all he gets is voicemail, and after that, the voice says that the number has been disconnected.
Miles has had a bad feeling about this since the minute Richard proposed it, but there’s not much he can say. ‘I’m too scared of facing my feelings about being back on an island to support you while you visit your birthplace’ isn’t exactly sensitive boyfriend material. Richard wouldn’t---couldn’t if he tried---be that selfish; Miles knows he needs to suck it up, but he feels nauseous the whole ferry ride from Morocco to Tenerife. And not because he’s seasick.
It’s hella awkward starting from the second they land. Of course the place looks nothing like Richard remembers. There are hi-rise hotels where he remembers quaint fishing ports. There are vacationing Russians where he remembers only toothless old locals. There are casinos and daiquiris where he remembers ramshackle inns serving the terrible local vintage.
And to make matters worse, he can’t even find Isabella’s grave.
Miles is upset because Richard is upset---devastated---but he’s secretly relieved; he’s not sure what the protocol on visiting your ex-Catholic boyfriend’s dead wife’s grave from a hundred years ago would have been. To come or not to come? He’s glad he no longer has to answer the question.
Now that they’re surrounded once again with palm trees and sand and the sound of waves lapping at the shore, a truth that he’s been avoiding since the minute they left the island refuses to be ignored. He can’t tell Richard, though. He can’t break his heart like that. And it’s not like he can do anything about it anyway. So he squashes it down and drinks too much at the hotel bar.
“What’s wrong?” Richard asks.
Richard frowns. He always knows when Miles is lying, but he doesn’t always know what the truth is.
They go to bed, and Miles waits until he hears Richard’s breathing light and soft against his chest, until those damn eyelashes have stilled on his perfect face, until he feels just as comfortable and safe as he does every night with Richard. Then he untangles their legs, puts on some clothes, and heads out of their hotel and down to the beach.
‘Sometimes you just need to stare at the ocean for awhile.’ It’s what Richard’s old island god boyfriend had always told him, apparently, and it turns out to be true. Miles just hasn’t had a chance to do it since…
Miles practically jumps out of his skin as he scrambles to his feet. “What the fuck?”
“Aw, come on. That’s no way to say hi.”
Miles backs up. He’s long been used to his power, but he’s never actually seen dead people before. Only Hurley had ever been able to do that. And now Hurley’s standing in front of him like it’s no big deal.
“What…?” He doesn’t even know what to ask first.
“Look, dude, I’m still getting used to this whole thing, so it would really help me out if you could try to act normal.”
But Miles is pointing at him. “You’re dead. Everyone on the island is dead. This isn’t happening.”
“Nah. Well, Jack died.” Hurley pauses for a moment and kicks the sand before brightening. “But other than that, everything’s awesome. Ben’s fine, Rose and Bernard are fine, Vincent’s fine, a couple of the Others who didn’t get killed by the smoke monster and explosions are fine. And Desmond and Penny are moving back to London now that her dad’s not after them anymore. We’re all good.”
It’s a hell of a lot of unexpected good news at once, and Miles feels like a chump for having spent all this time angsting and repressing and shit when there was nothing to be sad about. So, he focuses on what appears to be the only hole in Slightly-Slimmer-Maybe-Not-A-Ghost Hurley’s story. “But I thought Jack was the last candidate or whatever. How’s everything still there without an island protector?”
Miles thinks if Hurley looked any more sheepish, he’d start growing wool. “Yeah, about that. The new island protector dude? It’s me.”
Miles stares for a second, and then bursts out laughing. “Of course it is.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hurley asks, hurt.
Miles finally goes over and gives him a huge hug. He’s real and he’s solid and he’s here, and Miles is so happy he could puke. “It means you were always the best guy for the job. It’s good to see you, man.”
Hurley sighs happily, and Miles knows this is the normalcy he’s been needing from this encounter. “It’s good to see you, too. How’s Richard?”
“Richard’s great.” Miles keeps a straight face, letting nothing on. He doesn’t know how cool Hurley will be with all this.
But Hurley already seems to know. He gives him a huge thumbs-up and says, “I kinda saw that coming. Like, back when we were all on the beach with Frank and Sun and everybody. He was giving you the eye. That’s awesome, dude. Richard’s a good guy, and, like… really pretty.”
It seems like he’s cool with it. Maybe a little too cool.
“Um… thanks? I guess.” It’s an awkward moment, and then Miles remembers something. “How’d you find us?”
“Uh… superpowers? I’m still figuring it all out, but it turns out I can find pretty much anybody. And teleport and stuff. It’s my first trip. No jet lag!” Hurley grins, and Miles thinks that if anyone in the world deserves superpowers, it’s Hurley. He’s the only person Miles has ever met who couldn’t go dark side if he tried.
“You teleported here? From the island?” As the words come out of his mouth, Miles realizes how much he’s missed having these kinds of cracked-out conversations.
“Yeah. Jacob had this magic lighthouse thing he used to stalk people with. It’s a long story. Anyway, Jack broke it awhile back, but Ben suggested I fix it so I could look for you guys. I swear I wasn’t watching you or anything creepy like that.”
“Why did you want to find me?” It sounds like everything’s peachy keen over in Hurley’s island paradise. Miles doesn’t know why he’d go through all that trouble just for him.
“I was wondering if you, I don’t know… if maybe you wanted to come back. I mean, Ben’s turned out to be a lot cooler than we thought, and Rose and Bernard are really nice, but… I miss you guys. It’s lonely with everyone gone, or dead.”
There’s been a hunger in Hurley’s eyes ever since they started talking, and now Miles recognizes what it is: it’s the mirror image of the same hunger that he’s been feeling ever since he set foot on Tenerife and realized what’s been wrong with him. It’s more than Jim’s absence, and it’s more than his paranoia that he’s more into Richard than Richard is into him; it’s that Miles has been missing the island just as much as Hurley has been missing his friends. He’s been missing home, and now with Hurley offering him the chance to go back, he knows unmistakably that that’s what the island was. He never fit in the real world before; he doesn’t know why he thought he would now.
Miles had never wanted to leave. He’d only gone along with it because it was what everybody else was doing. And, well, because the black smoke was trying to kill them.
Miles glances down the beach at their hotel. “I don’t know. Richard… he’s kind of into traveling right now. I don’t think he’d be up for it.”
Hurley’s face falls. “Oh. Right. I didn’t think of that. Crap. I was hoping maybe… this whole living forever thing is kind of freaking me out. I could use some tips, and he’s like, the only example left. But I get it. Hey, I was hoping you could help me out with a project, too. The whispers. I feel like between the two of us we could help them, maybe…”
“What about Jim? Have you asked him yet?” Miles blurts out, interrupting him. It’s the burning question that’s been on his mind ever since Hurley started talking about magical locator lighthouses.
“Not yet. But I know where he is. I was kind of hoping you could ask for me.”
“I feel like it would be good coming from you,” Hurley says, slightly cryptically.
Miles folds his arms in front of him. “Yep, definitely the new Jacob,” he snarks.
Hurley smacks his forehead. “Sorry. I’ve really been trying not to come off as smug and stuff. I don’t mean it. Promise.”
“Don’t worry about it, pal. You’re doing fine. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Richard takes it very calmly. He takes everything very calmly. But Miles can still see how hard this is for him, how he’s reading through the lines that Miles isn’t even saying. He knew they were doing well, but he’s had no idea how much Richard cares until now.
“I’m only going for a week,” Miles tries to explain. “As soon as I’m done convincing Jim, I’ll come meet you wherever you want.”
“No you won’t.” Richard stands up arrow straight. He still isn’t tall, but the imposing island leader look is on his face, and Miles knows better than to cross him.
“What do you mean, I won’t? I’m telling you I’m coming back. I... I wanna be here. With you.” Miles wishes it didn’t sound as lame as it does, because he’s at least half telling the truth. He wants to be with Richard. He just wishes they both wanted to be together in the same place.
“You want to see James again. You want to see the island again. It’s as much your home as it is mine. I can see it in your face. I’ve seen it for weeks.” Richard’s breaking Miles’s heart, because it’s the first time he’s looked sad since his whole suicidal dynamite period, and the last thing Miles wants to do is bring on another bout of that particular brand of insanity.
“Come with us. Come with me.” Miles gets excited thinking about all the developments he’s been briefed on. “It’ll be like the 70s, only so much better. We can live together in my old house. Hurley and Ben and Bernard have fixed up the Barracks, and repaired The Flame so we can get news, and started a chicken farm, and reinstated food drops and…”
Richard shakes his head. “I can’t. Not yet.”
Miles pulls Richard in close, hating that it has to be like this. However, he just doesn’t belong here anymore. Neither of them do. They’re like… they’re like people who wore The Ring. The elf land over the sea is calling him.
Oh god, he’s such a dork.
“You’ll come soon, though, right?”
Richard nods. “Very soon. It’s my home, too. And you’ll be there.”
And that’s how Miles ends up just as angst-o-riffic as everybody else he knows. He figures it was only a matter of time before he got infected by Crazy Hot People Island’s epidemic of melodrama. At least he’s lasted longer than the rest of them. As he makes his way across four lanes of Miami traffic, Miles’s palms sweat around the piece of paper with directions, timing and instructions that Hurley gave him back in Tenerife.
Just as promised, there’s Jim, looking like shit. He's sitting underneath a tree and staring at a playground while he chugs from a bottle in a brown paper bag.
“Okay, this is just pathetic,” Miles says, as soon as he gets within earshot.
Jim turns around slowly and bunches his eyebrows together, a glimmer of a smile almost visible in the deep recesses of his drunken, tragic eyes. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“What the hell are you doing here? Sitting around drinking and watching kids. Do you know what you look like, man?”
Jim takes another slurp, his eyes stuck on one little boy in particular. “She didn’t believe me.”
Miles sits down in the grass next to his friend. “Who didn’t believe what?”
“Juliet’s sister. I tried to tell her what happened, where Juliet went. Everything. She said I was crazy.”
“What else was she supposed to think? Some guy who died in a plane crash three years ago comes along and tells you he’s your sister’s boyfriend from 1975 and that she died while detonating a hydrogen bomb? What kind of a story is that?”
Jim isn’t listening, though, and continues, “Said she’d get me a restraining order if I tried to talk to them again.”
“A restraining order? I know what that’s like.” Miles chuckles, but there’s no mirth to it, not when Jim’s this much of a mess. He clearly came just in time. Following Jim’s eyes, he asks, “Is that him? Is that Julian?”
“Yeah. Looks like her, doesn’t he?” Jim’s voice gurgles with alcohol and desperation.
“Yeah.” Something around the eyes. And the hair. He’s cute. They both stare silently and non-pedophilically at the child for a few minutes.
“How’d you know I was here, Enos?” Jim asks without looking at him.
“Hurley told me,” Miles says nonchalantly, counting down the seconds until the requisite reaction.
It gets the desired effect. Jim jumps and stares at him. “What?”
“Hurley’s the new Jacob.”
Just as Miles did upon hearing the news, Sawyer chuckles. “Of course he is.”
“He’s fixed the place up. I’ve got to say, it sounds pretty sweet. Nobody chasing us, the beach, all we can eat, no impending doom, all of us whipping your sorry ass at ping-pong. Hurley says we can come back whenever we want.”
“Did he now?” Jim’s voice is soft, relieved. He knows they belong there, too.
“Yeah. Ye old Elizabeth is moored downtown. There’s a bearing we have to follow… You know, the usual hocus pocus.”
Jim finally releases his grip on the brown paper bag and sets it down next to him. “Kinda miss all that weird stuff.”
“I know.” Miles’s heart lifts. He knows Jim’s in.
“So, where’s Dick? Realized he was too pretty for you?”
Miles punches him in the side. “Shut up. He just had some stuff to do. He’ll be along soon.”
When Jim looks at him this time, there’s no sarcasm, just genuine caring. “So you guys are good?”
“Yeah. Really good. Great.” Miles’s response is just as earnest.
“Glad to hear it.”
They sit quietly for a minute and then Jim breaks the awkward silence by grabbing Miles and giving him a noogie.
“Missed you, Enos.”
Yep, everything’s going to be fine. It’s already fine.
Jim smiles and gets up. He brushes the dirt off the back of his pants. “Come on. We need provisions. If we’re going back, I’m gonna need to hit a Barnes & Noble first.”