Juliet can still hear James screaming for her somewhere, but the woman leading her down the hallway isn’t taking no for an answer. She’s rather curious where she is, anyway.
It almost looks familiar.
The older woman throws open a set of doors and Juliet recognizes it as a Dharma station, but one she’s never seen before. Television screens line the far wall and in the middle of the room is a single computer.
“Who are you?” Juliet asks the woman, the one question the others hinge on. “Am I dead?”
“Not quite, Ms. Burke,” the older woman answers and pulls up two chairs for them to sit. “You are a state of limbo, and I am your guide. You may call me Eloise.”
“Don’t you mean I’m in a state of limbo?” Juliet asks, unused to being the one without information, and sits across from the woman, leans forward. “Is this limbo?”
“No, dear, you are,” Eloise replies without any matronly affection. “You cannot enter limbo; you create it. And that’s what you did by setting off that bomb, the same as Desmond Hume did when he blew up the hatch.”
Juliet clutches her hands together and avoids the woman’s eyes by staring at the television screens. “So I’m trapped here?”
“That’s up to you,” Eloise answers and walks to the computer, turns it on. “You created a hole in time and space, something my son once tried to achieve. So you can stay and restore balance, or you can leave through the front door.”
“We’re not on the island, are we?” Juliet questions and the woman smiles coldly. “We are the opposite of the island.”
She shuts the door behind her.
Juliet explains it to herself with science and logic and tries to erase every consequence of faith from their lives. She understands it quickly enough (delete program, create new code, run). It’s just like walking away from a dead mother and impregnating another, except this time, it works.
The first woman she saves is Charlotte Lewis – creates a timeline where she reads books about Narnia and follows the trail to Cambridge, meets a professor who takes her to a piano concert and the music stops when she enters the room. Piece by piece, Juliet overrides Jacob and pulls them away from the island, away from death and answers.
For every action, there is an equal and opposition reaction.
Eventually, they stop asking for questions and Juliet moves on. She starts with the list of Oceanic 815 survivors and ensures they never get on the plane (a woman named Ana Lucia Cortez misses her flight because a man finds her number in his dead father’s wallet; a Kate Austen doesn’t stay an extra night on a farm; a Sun Kwon leaves the airport when nobody’s watching).
Brick by brick, she takes their lives back (takes back other things, too, but decides it’s worth the trade) until one day, her finger slides over a name that should not be on the list.
A body in motion should accelerate at the rate of the force behind it (but here, there is no force).
Juliet puts the name aside and runs her sister’s life on one of the screens while she works on saving others. Salvation was never her game, and strangers she can take from, but she won’t erase herself, her own life (if she does, she might not exist here either).
And finally, there is nobody left but the two names and the two screens running in tandem (two people she cannot trade her life for, cannot be forgotten by). She watches Rachel tell Julian good night stories and wonders, if she erases Jacob, whether she’s erasing Rachel.
In the other screen, James stares at a glass of whisky and a man across a diner table. She doesn’t understand (doesn’t want to remember).
Don’t you let go. It sounds like an echo from a lifetime away, and Juliet’s fingers drift over James’ face. Don’t you leave me. Don’t you let go. She feels herself falling again and shudders, acts suddenly.
Her fingers know the commands – a body accelerates at the rate of the force behind it.
It’s a sunny evening when Juliet’s running late at work and she still has to pick Julian up from school. Her sister, her brilliant sister, is presenting her research on how to cure cancer with cancer and Juliet feels smug knowing that ponce, Edmond Burke, is stewing over how a woman beat him to the discovery.
Not that he could ever have done it without the two sisters, but he was invited just for the look on his face.
The daycare is packed with children and their parents and she stumbles over the toys in her heels, feels her breath drop as a steady arm and sweet drawl catch her. “Watch yourself, Blondie, this place is a minefield.” She smiles a little, embarrassed, and catches his eye.
“Have we met before?” she asks and he smirks at her. “I can walk by again if you like; just try not to fall this time.”
Despite herself, the cheesy line makes her chest tighten with repressed memories and she scans the room. “I’m looking for my nephew,” she explains and spots the little girl running up to the very strange stranger. “Well this is mine,” he says and extends a hand. “I’m James, by the way, James Ford. This is Clementine.”
“Blondie,” she teases back and he tilts his head, mutters, “I’ll be damned.”
His ring finger is naked.
They meet for drinks later that week and he spends half the night testing her and the other half asking a thousand questions through jokes. It’s impossible, but she swears she knows him, stalls as long as she can (knows he’s waiting for her to invite him back).
James finally asks her himself, a week later, by catching her hand before she gets inside and pinning her with a kiss. He tastes like beer and cinnamon and she can’t breathe (he feels like dying and coming back again).
She wishes she could remember, more than anything, more than having him without answers, but wonders if it’s better this way. Juliet’s almost convinced until the night she falls asleep curled next to him and dreams vividly about islands and bombs and yellow houses, and she wakes to find him in shock, staring at nothing.
“James?” she asks, unable to believe in any such thing until he meets her eyes, leans over to crush her with a bruising kiss, ragged breaths making her high and fearful. She pulls him in, tries to remember (not to dream).
I love you. Don’t you leave me. Don’t let go.
“I’ve got you, baby,” he whispers when she tears away, clutching his shoulders, and shuts her eyes.
“I’ve got you,” she echoes.
She remembers – decides – that a body at rest will stay that way.