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Because You Left, Part Three

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"When I know him," Burt says, "he's calling himself Ben Anderson. Nice guy. Math teacher. Hell of a good one, from what I hear. But right now, Kate? He's a twelve year-old boy who goes by the name of Benjamin Linus. And if I've got my dates right, which I think I do, something really, really bad is about to happen to him."

He isn't telling her anything she doesn't already know. He can tell by the way her eyes widen just slightly, the way her lips part; the way she almost immediately clamps down on that involuntary response and her whole face goes neutral, jaw set just a little bit firmer than before. She knows what's gonna happen to Ben. Probably she knew before she ended up here. Or now. Or whatever.

The woman in Ben's file, the woman he thought she would be -- that woman wouldn't care. He wonders what's changed for her since then.

Probably Ben. Kids'll do that to you.

"Nothing's going to happen to him," Kate says, and Burt can tell how badly she wants to sound sure. Hell, she almost does; there's just that little bit too much fear in her voice. She's known this was coming. She's been waiting for this.

Waiting for him, even if neither of them knew it.

Sometimes, on her worst days, the way that Annie described the Island made it seem more like a monster than a place. Like it knew things, like it made things happen. And everything it did left scars.

Burt never questioned her, not even then. And he sure as hell isn't arguing with her now.

"'Cause you're gonna stop it," Burt finishes. It makes more and more sense the more he thinks about it. Kate knew what was going to happen before she came here. Didn't mean much to her at the time -- enough to stick with her, but not much more than that. Then, however she does it, she ends up here. She meets Ben, just a kid in round glasses with his head tipped down, hair falling in his eyes. She starts to spend time with him. Not 'cause she cares, just... curious. Trying to figure out who he is, and why he's important. Then, without her even really noticing, it all starts to shift.

He wonders how long she's been here. Now. Whatever. Ben remembers her well enough that he saw her mugshot among his Oceanic 815 clippings, kept hold of it. Looked at it the night before he went into surgery. So... Months, at least. Could be years.

Long enough for her to realize she had to change things. Not for herself, but for him.

Kate's green eyes bore straight into his, unflinching. She reminds him of Kurt, a little. Not just the freckles -- although Kurt gets them, sometimes, when he lets himself go into the sun for too long -- and not just the cute little nose, but the way she's solid steel underneath. Shame it had to start out like this, the two of them on opposite sides.

Then, unexpectedly, she turns to Juliet. "You did it, didn't you?" she snaps. "You brought him back."

 

*

 

I'm doing it for him.

Once again, Ben finds himself sitting on the shore and staring out at the ocean with his son curled into his side, face tucked into his shoulder, clinging to him like his very life depended upon it. This time, however, Ben can't even pretend to be planning. He's... distracted.

He remembers this place and you don't, Ben.

He's known for a long time that his memories aren't coming back. He could stand and go back into the jungle right now, follow Ethan and Ana's trail to the polar bear cages, to the buildings just beyond, find Room 23, turn the entire apparatus back on -- the drums that haunt Blaine's dreams even after all these years, the pictures and the sounds and the entire experience -- and it might be awful, but it would be new. He wouldn't remember what happened. He never will. He is absolutely certain of that.

But he can't stop himself from wondering. If he could remember, even a bit of it, the way Blaine remembers, the way even Ethan remembers. If he could remember, just a little, could he help somehow?

It aches, seeing Blaine like this. There should be something he can do.

"I can hear you thinking," Blaine mumbles, breath warm through Ben's shirt.

Ben thinks about it a moment. "Can you?" he asks.

A huff that might be laughter. "Not really." And then, with a sigh, Blaine disengages; his hands loose their tight grip on Ben's waist; he peels himself away slowly, reluctantly.

Ben doesn't pull him back in. He wants to, but he doesn't. He does, however, reach out with one hand to cup his son's face, thumb smoothing over a red mark on Blaine's cheek -- he'd been holding on so tightly that one of Ben's buttons left a faint impression on him. It will fade, of course. Still, Ben likes to do what he can.

"Better?" he asks.

Blaine doesn't respond right away; he thinks about it for a few moments, then finally nods. "A little," he says, all honesty. "I think. I... I don't know. I thought I might remember... things. Just. Not like this."

Not like what? Ben doesn't ask. It's bad enough that Blaine has had to relive it all again, all these things he should never have seen. Ben's not about to stir anything up that he shouldn't. "I'm sorry," he says instead. It's not enough, but it's all he has.

"Don't be," Blaine says. It's oddly firm, the way he says it. Adult, in a way that he shouldn't be adult. Not yet. "I'm not. I wanted to save you, and I did, and... And I don't regret it. And I'd do it again tomorrow if I had to."

"I know you would," Ben says, because he knows his son too well to say Don't you dare, even if it's what he wants to say. "I know."

And he doesn't tell Blaine that he'll get them off the Island before anything else can happen, because it's not a promise he can keep. All he can do is hope that Holly will come for them.

And that they'll both still be there when she does.

 

*

 

The call comes at four in the morning.

Holly's awake, of course. She did try to sleep, sometime around midnight, when her single suitcase was packed and she'd thrown her last overripe banana away and there was nothing left to arrange, nothing to figure out, nothing to do but wait and hope. She stretched out on her futon, covered herself in blankets, and tried, but every time she closed her eyes, she found herself opening them a moment later so she could go back to staring at the ceiling and wondering. Where he was, what he was doing. If the plane had crashed. If he'd been hurt. When she'd get to see him again.

She'd never really worried about anyone before. No wonder Penny's so irritable all the time, if this is what she's been going through for the last five years.

Hopefully, she learned how to sleep through it. She must have, right? She'd probably be dead if she hadn't. Everyone has to sleep eventually. Maybe Penny sleeps just fine these days. Maybe she's asleep right now.

But Holly hasn't been worrying about Ben for five years; she's been worrying about him for roughly three days, and this is the first day he's actually really been gone, so after about a hour or so of staring up at the ceiling wondering where Ben is and what Ben's doing and does the Island really want him alive -- it's an Island, for God's sake, so how are a bunch of humans supposed to know what it wants? -- she rolls off the futon again and goes to her closet, wraps herself up in a cardigan that she maybe stole from Ben's house a few weeks ago and has maybe held onto because maybe it still smells a little bit like his dryer sheets. Then she sits on the edge of the futon and just stares at the stains on her carpet and waits for her phone to ring.

Which it does, finally, at four in the morning.

"Tell me it's good," she says, as soon as she picks up the call.

Penny's response is quick and irritated and the best thing Holly's heard for at least three days, maybe four. "What's the earliest flight you can get?"

 

*

 

"Hey." The man from the plane, the good-looking one who helped Ben with his shoulder -- Sun thinks his name was Copper, or Cooper, or something like that -- is coming towards her. He's smiling, but there's something... He looks tired. Confused. Which he would have his reasons to be, of course. "So, um. It looks like you're in charge of the supplies? Is that what's happening?"

Sun takes a moment to survey everything laid out in front of her. It hadn't really occurred to her that she was in charge of anything. It was just... there was so much being pulled off the plane, and none of it in any sort of order. Books and deodorant, high-heeled shoes and medicine, all together in one big mess. So she started to clean it up. It was something to do, and it made her feel better.

And then people started to ask her where to put things. If she'd found things. If she needed anything.

And now here she is.

"I suppose I am," she says. "Were you looking for anything specific? There's plenty of bug spray, fortunately. Not as much sunscreen, but..."

"Actually," Cooper says, and when Sun looks up, he's not focusing his smile at her anymore.

Sun turns, sees two slumped figures sitting further down the beach. Ben and Blaine, huddled together and staring out at the ocean. She wonders, not for the first time, what drove them away from the Hydra Station in such a hurry, and why they seem so wounded. But then, they've been here before, and not under very pleasant circumstances. She supposes it doesn't need to be anything more than that.

"Actually," Cooper says again, his attention back on her. Even tired, his smile is remarkably charming. "I was wondering if there was any food? I mean, I'm -- My trainer wanted me to go on a diet anyway. But." His eyes shift, look past her again. "I mean, kids are supposed to eat a lot, right? So they can grow. That was what my mom used to say, anyway, when I didn't want to finish my broccoli. That if I didn't eat it I'd never grow. And then I decided that I'd just stop eating broccoli so I could stop growing so I could be Santa's elf at Macy's, but my father said that if I all I ever achieved in life was to be an elf that he'd disown me, so I started eating my broccoli again."

Sun has absolutely no idea why he's telling her this, but she feels like it would be rude not to respond. "Oh," she says.

"Yeah," Cooper says. "He still says he's going to disown me unless I make something of myself, but. I'm pretty sure he'll change his mind when I get my first Teen Choice Award." He blinks, shakes his head. Refocuses. "Sorry," he says. "I ramble, sometimes? When I'm tired. It's been a long day. Anyway, I just thought I'd take something to Blaine and Ben. So they could eat. Something."

It's a kind thought; it reminds Sun of something Hurley might do. "I'm afraid there's not much left from the in-flight meals," she says. "And I'm not sure how edible any of it is, since we don't have any ice. But we've been gathering mangoes; there's plenty. Over there." She gestures to a heap of fruit spread out on a blanket. "Obviously we'll need more than just fruit, but there's already a few people fishing, and it's possible there's wild boar here, just like --"

She cuts herself off before she can finish the sentence.

Cooper just sighs. "You too, huh? Just like Ana, and that creepy guy, and Hurley. And Ben, and Blaine... And pretty much everyone who isn't me. You've been here before."

"Not here specifically," Sun says, although that probably won't make him feel any better. "The other Island. But my husband was here, for a while. He helped build the runway we landed on."

"Really? Wow, small world. I mean..." Cooper laughs, shakes his head. "Um. Is he still here? Do you think, maybe --"

"No." Sun shakes her head, turns away for a moment. There's a duffel bag near her feet, covered in joined Ls and Vs -- Louis Vuitton. She wonders whose it was. "If he was... If he was, he would have come. So he must still be on the other Island."

There's a pause, and then Cooper says, "That's why you came back, isn't it? Because he's still here -- or, I mean, not here, but -- He's here, and you wanted to bring him back."

"That's right." Actually, that bag looks familiar. Sun wonders. Then she shakes it off, looks up at Cooper. "We have a daughter now, a daughter who's never seen her father. I don't want her to grow up without him. And I don't..." The astonishing thing is the lack of judgment in Cooper's expression; he just smiles at her, warm and genuine and surprisingly sympathetic. "I don't think I can do this without him. I need to bring him home."

Cooper rests a hand on her shoulder, pats her gently. "If there's anything I can do," he says. "I mean, we've gotta get everyone else home anyway, right? Might as well add one more to the list." Then he pulls his hand away, holds it out in front of him, pretends to write on it with one finger.

To her own surprise, Sun actually manages to laugh at that, and Cooper beams back at her, obviously pleased by the response. "Thank you," Sun says, and smiles back at him. "For offering to help. I'll keep that in mind."

"No problem," Cooper says, putting his imaginary notebook and pen away in his pocket. "And, hey, thank you. I mean, for the mangoes. Thank you." He pats her shoulder one more time, smiles at her a little longer then he waves, and turns, and walks toward the pile of fruit.

Sun turns back to her work, still smiling. The Louis Vuitton bag catches her attention again. It really does seem familiar. Curious, Sun crouches in the sand next to it, and reaches for the luggage tag.

 

*

 

"If she was on that plane, Chief, she's still a ways away."

Jin doesn't even turn, keeps his eyes on the sky, where the plane's contrail is long since gone.

Sawyer steps up next to him, rests a hand on his shoulder. "And she's damn sure not up there anymore."

"I told her not to come back," Jin says, quietly. "I told her to stay."

"Yeah, well. People don't always do what you tell them to." Especially Sun, although it might not be diplomatic for Sawyer to point that out, not right now. And diplomacy isn't usually his thing, but hell, Jin's just about the closest he's got to a friend. Well, Jin and Frogurt, but Frogurt's not exactly useful in a pinch. At least Jin can hold a gun. So Sawyer keeps his mouth shut and his hand on Jin's shoulder and does his best not to fuck anything up.

Damndest thing, though, that plane coming right when Locke said it would. Like it was running on a timetable. Popping out of the sky neat as a pin, landing on that damned runway Sawyer worked so hard on. Weeks spent breaking rocks, blistering his hands and burning in the sun. Still got the callouses from it. All that, for Benjamin Linus's triumphant return.

All that to prove John Locke right.

"Seriously," he mutters. "How the hell'd he know about this?"

There's a rustle of branches, and then Richard Alpert emerges from the underbrush, pressed and clean as always. It's not the first time Sawyer's seen him do it -- just appear like that, like the Island summoned him, but he's never really gotten used to it. Never really gotten used to Richard at all. Locke knows a lot of things he shouldn't know about the Island, but there's something off about it; there's some kind of a con underneath Sawyer just hasn't figured out yet. Richard, though... Richard's the real deal.

He looks Sawyer dead in the eyes, and says, "If you ever figure it out, James, please. Let me know."

Then he passes, moving on into the jungle, vanishing like he wasn't there.

"Uh oh," Sawyer says, turning back to Jin. "Sounds like trouble in paradise to me."

But Jin's still lost in the sky, like he's waiting for Sun to come down and get him.

Hell, like this place wasn't weird enough already.

Sawyer shifts his grip down so he's holding onto Jin's arm, not his shoulder, and starts pulling him back towards the camp. "Come on," he says. "Let's see if we can take over the whole place before Locke gets back."

Honestly, though, he'd settle for knowing just what's gotten under Richard's skin.

 

*

 

"Of course you would," Kate says, glaring at Juliet, and Kurt doesn't really like Juliet that much but he has to give her credit for this -- she doesn't even flinch. "You sold us out -- you kidnapped Claire, you sent your people to pick us off one at a time, you --"

"I saved Claire's life," Juliet shoots back, actually leaning in, the two of them face to face and both getting redder and it's weird and scary but Kurt can't even think about looking away. "I saved Claire, I saved her baby -- I saved you, Kate, or don't you remember that part? When the Marshal woke up and started talking all about you, and what you did, how you --"

"And so you shot him."

The look of withering condescension that Juliet shoots in Kate's direction is almost as frightening as the fact that Kurt absolutely, totally believes that Juliet could shoot somebody. "He was going to die no matter what I did," Juliet says. "He was dying, slowly and painfully, and I put him out of his misery. Which is more than I can say about what you did to Wayne."

Kate pales; she actually takes a half step back, shaking her head. "Don't you dare --"

"And you know the really interesting part?" Juliet steps in, icy calm in a way that Kurt can only dream of being someday. "When the Marshal told me what you'd done, and why you were in cuffs when he brought you to the Island? I didn't know a damn thing about you. I didn't know who Wayne was; I didn't know why you did what you did to him. For all I knew, you really were everything the Marshal said you were. I could've told the entire camp. In fact, I probably should've. But I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Shame you never extended that to me."

"Yeah, well." Kate straightens, brushes a strand of curly hair out of her face. "This is how you show you deserve it? By bringing him back?"

"I didn't --"

"It's my fault." Brittany's voice is so soft that Kurt can barely even hear her, and he's standing right next to her. But somehow, it's loud enough to get everyone's attention. "He came back to help me. It's my fault."

 

*

 

"You there?"

Santana shakes her head, blinks, and turns to look at Wes, but he's staring out the windshield at the road ahead, watching the lights whip by. It's still dark; the sun won't be up for another hour at least.

By then, they'll be long gone.

"Sorry," he says. "You looked like you were a million miles away."

"Yeah, well." Santana goes back to staring out the window again. It's snowing -- just light, dry powder. One good thing about all this; she won't have to see snow for a while. "You know, I've lied to my parents about where I'm going dozens of times, but. Not like this."

"I've already gone over our cover with my parents," Wes says. "In detail. Trust me, they won't slip."

"That's not what I'm worried about," Santana says, and then hesitates, because she doesn't necessarily want to say this next part. But it's Wes, and Wes has had her back since basically forever, so finally she lets it slip. "What if we don't make it back?"

Wes manages to tear his eyes from the road for a couple of seconds and actually look at her. "Are you asking me because you want to talk about it? Or are you genuinely having second thoughts? Because I can drive you back if you want me to -- I worked extra time into our schedule so --"

"I'm not turning back," Santana snaps, offended, and Wes immediately turns his attention back to the road. "And I don't do talking. I just..." She tilts her head back into the seat and closes her eyes.

It's quiet for a few seconds, and then Wes finally says, "If something goes wrong. Which I don't think anything will, but if it does. My parents have already said they'll... they'll talk to your parents. I'm not sure what they'll say; I didn't ask. But. Whatever it is, it'll be the right thing."

It should be comforting. It almost is, in a weird, overly-stiff, sort of pompous Wes-type way. But just the idea of anyone having to say the right thing to her parents... Santana sucks in a deep, shuddering breath and dabs carefully at her eyes with the tip of one finger.

"Santana." Wes reaches out and lays a hand over hers; it takes a minute, but finally Santana manages to look back at him. "Nothing's going to happen to you." He smiles at her. "I've always had your back. You know that."

"Yeah," she says, and does her best to smile back at him. "Yeah, I know." Then she clears her throat and adds, "And... uh. I've got yours too. You know that, right?"

Wes just grins, and goes back to staring out the windshield. But he leaves his hand over hers for a long time.

 

*

 

There's something symbolic, Ben thinks, about his son's cardigan sweater, bow tie, and button-down shirt left in a pile on the sand. Blaine is waist-deep in the water, rinsing the gel out of his hair, and Ben watches him from the shore and thinks about civilization, about all those niceties they've left behind. There is a part of him, a small, angry part at the core of him, that doesn't regret it.

But the rest of him?

He'd kill to get Blaine back to Ohio, back to showers and bedsheets and ridiculous hotel restaurants with white linen napkins and silver trays for the check. Anyone he had to kill, he'd do it. Anyone at all. Which is a good thing, really, because he knows damn well he'll have to. Just like the last time.

Not yet. But soon.

In the meantime, there are footsteps in the sand to be dealt with.

He turns, sees Sun heading towards him, carrying a Louis Vuitton duffel over her shoulder. It's almost certainly authentic. Ben knows, because he knows who it belongs to.

"I thought Blaine might need a change of clothes," Sun says, crossing the remaining few steps and dropping the bag at Ben's feet.

He looks down at it, looks back up at her, momentarily at a loss for words.

"When I left the Island," she continues, glancing down at the bag. She folds one hand over the other, twists absently at her wedding band. "When I left my husband. I had nothing of his to carry with me. All the time that I was gone, I wished for... something. To feel that he was with me. I thought, perhaps, it might help Blaine to have something of Kurt's. Until we find him again, of course."

"Of course," Ben repeats, absently. Until we find him again. It would be nice if he had some idea where they should start looking. "I... I don't suppose this happened when you first arrived on the Island. I mean, the bright light, the disappearing people..."

"Sorry," Sun says, without the faintest trace of a smile. Her eyes go to the glittering ocean spread out in front of them.

"Hmm." Ben turns his attention to the water as well -- or, more correctly, to his son, still rinsing the last remnants of civilization off his body. There is a question Ben hasn't quite allowed himself to ask yet. What does he do if he can't find them again? Would he bring Blaine home without Kurt or Burt or Brittany? Would Blaine even let him? "It doesn't matter," he says, more to himself to Sun, although he's aware she's listening. "We'll find them. And we'll bring them home again."

"Yes." Sun says the word without a trace of doubt in her voice. Her eyes stay fixed to the water -- to the endlessly shifting blue and green -- but her hand reaches blindly out for his. After a moment of perplexity, Ben sighs and reaches back. He's not in a position to refuse human comfort right now anyway. "Yes," Sun says again. "We will."

 

*

 

It's the second time they've been at the airport in the last 24 hours, except this time, they're the ones getting on the plane.

Finn doesn't really know how to feel about it. He's glad they're going; he's glad he doesn't actually have to go back to school Monday like nothing's happened -- sit and wait and wonder and all the time act like his guts aren't trying to rip their way out of his body -- but at the same time... At the same time, he's really, really scared.

He wonders if he'd still be this scared if it wasn't for the witch lady. If it wasn't for the letter she'd given his mom last night, the one with Carole Hudson on it in that familiar handwriting.

I'm so sorry for putting you through so much pain, and I don't expect you to wait for me, and I don't expect you to forgive me because I can't forgive myself.

Tell Finn whatever you want. I won't try to see him again if you don't want me to. He deserves better anyway. So do you.

Just know that I never meant to hurt you. I thought you would be better without me.

I'm so sorry.

He sniffles audibly, and his mom squeezes his hand.

Sitting across the departures lounge, Santana glances up at him, and then almost immediately drops her eyes back down to her nail file.

"Do you think..." Finn glances around, makes sure no one else is looking at him. But Wes is actually reading, and that Michael guy is staring at his watch like he's willing it to move faster, and Miss H is in the corner, talking in whispers on the phone. She's all wrapped up in a sweater that looks like Mr. A's, and Finn suddenly wonders if they're, like, dating. It might explain some things. But he doesn't have time to think about that now, so he turns back to his mom. "Do you think he's still there? I mean, I know Mr. A said all the DHARMA people... He said that they..." And then his voice chokes up, which is weird, because he already thought his dad was dead before, but now -- "But he could be --"

"I don't know, honey." His mom sounds as sad and confused and close to tears as he does, and it's Finn's turn to squeeze her hand. "I guess we'll find out."

Wes turns a page in his book. Santana keeps filing her nails. Michael drops both hands into his lap, clasped tight together.

Holly says, "Because I trust them, Penny!" and then looks at Finn and goes back to whispering again.

Finn slouches lower in his seat and rests his head on his mom's shoulder.

 

*

 

The girl is crying, face crumpled and red, and the boy reaches out to hug her, shooting Kate an accusatory glare, and she didn't even do anything --

"Ssh," the boy says, his voice higher than Kate would've expected, and where the hell did these two come from, anyway? They must've been with Juliet, but why would a pair of teenagers -- because they can't be any older than eighteen -- what could possibly possess Juliet to bring them this far, to bring them here? "It's not your fault, Brittany; no one blames you, no one thinks that --"

"I was trying to help." Brittany struggles her way free of the boy's hold, turning to look at Kate, and it takes everything Kate has to look the girl in the face. She's so... miserable. "I thought... If I could go back, if I could change things, then he wouldn't be in the paper. If he wasn't in the paper, then no one would know where he was, and if no one knew --"

Juliet sighs and shakes her head, turning back towards the girl. Amazing, how she can go from furious to gentle, like flipping a switch. "We already knew, Brittany," she says. "There was never anything you could've --"

"But I tried," Brittany insists, lower lip trembling. "If I hadn't tried, if I hadn't -- It's all my fault."

Kate really wants to know what Brittany tried, and why it's her fault, but the problem is asking. Whatever Kate might feel towards Juliet, Brittany's just a kid, and Kate doesn't want to make her feel too much worse than she already does. She needs to find some way of getting the information, carefully, thoughtfully --

Then the walkie at her hip crackles. "Kate! Kate, are you there?"

She grabs for it without even thinking twice, turning and walking away from the whole lot of them. Not because it's a convenient excuse to step back and catch her breath (although the more she thinks about things, the harder it is to breathe), but because if she doesn't answer immediately and correctly, someone's gonna come looking for her. And that's not going to end well for anyone. "I'm here, Phil," she says. "Everything okay?"

"No," he says. "No, it's really not. I -- Kate, I think I just caught a Hostile."

 

*

 

He doesn't entirely understand what's happening. One moment, he was on the plane -- there was turbulence, and a stewardess walking down the aisle towards him, and somewhere behind him, Ben Anderson was telling his son to stay in his seat and fasten his seatbelt, and then -- A white light, and a feeling like the entire plane was rolling over, and when he came to, he was in the jungle, alone. He'd been so disoriented that he hadn't even recognized where he was at first.

And when he did realize where he was, when he finally began to make his unsteady way towards the building to see if Mikhail was there, to see if he could tell him where to find the plane and the rest of the survivors... Well. That was when things really started to go wrong.

The closet door opens again, and the dark-haired man sticks his face in. "Head of Security's on her way," he says. "You know, you'd be better off talking to me. When she gets here... Believe me, she's not someone you want to mess with."

Sayid stays where he is -- sitting on the floor with his hands crossed in front of him -- and keeps his mouth shut. He has no idea who this man is, who he works for or why he's at the Flame, wearing one of Mikhail's old DHARMA jumpsuits. Better to risk silence than the wrong explanation.

And, after all, he's been a captive before.

"Suit yourself," the man says, and closes the door again.

Sayid sighs and lets his eyes slip closed.

He has no idea what's happening.

He can only hope the others are somewhere slightly safer.

 

*

Perhaps she should have gone with Carole and the others. She's never been much for sailing, and she dislikes guns, but perhaps she could have been some use. If nothing else, it would have kept her occupied.

But something held her back; she couldn't have said exactly what at the time, but she knew there was a reason to stay behind.

And when she pulls her rental car into the driveway of Benjamin Anderson's little white house, she realizes what it is.

"Ms. Jaseem." The woman smiles at her, folds her hands in front of her. There is a manila envelope protruding from the top of her handbag.

"Ms. Hawking." Nadia doesn't smile, but she manages to keep her tone polite. "Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?"

"Thank you," Eloise says, and follows her to Benjamin's front door.

 

*

 

Finn's last texts come through at 7:04 am.

luv u be home soon i promise

ill bring them back too

well be home soon

i luv u rachel

There are a hundred things she wants to say -- don't go, don't get hurt, please be careful, please bring them back, please don't go --

But she replies with:

I love you too

Because she might never get to say anything to Finn again, and she knows that. And that has to be the last thing she says, because she'd never forgive herself otherwise.

He doesn't answer; probably, he's already on the plane and can't text.

She cries her eyes out for forty-five minutes exactly, and when she's done, she goes into the bathroom for a shower and a cooling cucumber mask.

She may not be going to the Island with Finn, but she still has work to do.

 

*

 

There is a moment, walking into the water, where he wonders what would happen if he didn't stop walking. If he kept going, so far out that the water would sweep him away. It isn't that he wants to -- he wants a lot of things, none of which involve dying. But he wonders what the Island would do if he tried.

There's not much use in wondering, of course. He's seen what the Island can do to people. What it did to his father, what it could do to Kurt... The best thing he can do is try to figure out what it wants from him and just hope that it'll let him go when he's done.

In the meantime, there's no point in pretending he'll be free any time soon.

He stays where the water is shallow (some places, it's almost golden -- the places where it's shallow, because it's so clear and you can see all the way down), and rinses the gel out of his hair, and when he's as clean as he's going to get, he makes his way carefully to shore, where his father has laid out clothing for him. A blue t-shirt with pictures of sunglasses printed on it, and a pair of plaid shorts.

Kurt's shorts. The ones he wore to Dalton when he came as a spy, so long ago now.

There's a Louis Vuitton duffel bag nearby; Kurt's, of course. It's open, and Blaine can see something yellow and fuzzy inside. Vincent. Kurt brought Vincent to the Island, and now Kurt's alone, and he doesn't even have --

His breath catches in his throat.

"Sun brought them," his father says, hastily. "If you want, Blaine -- I could go and find your bag... Or Cooper; I'm sure he'd be happy to help if you don't want me to --"

"This is fine," Blaine says, swallowing hard. Because it's not, of course it's not, but he needs this. This reminder of what he's working for, what he needs to do.

He has to get Kurt back somehow. Whatever it takes, whatever the Island wants from him... He has to do it.

"This is fine," he says again, and reaches out and pulls Kurt's shirt over his own head.

Whatever it takes.

 

*

 

It could've worked. If Juliet had had five more minutes; if she'd been able to introduce Brittany to Kate, explain the situation...

But now Kate's a disappearing cloud of dust, and they're right back where they started.

"Well," she says, because regardless of how she's feeling right now, defeatist has never suited her. Like it or not, survival is what she's best at. "That could've gone better"

Brittany sniffles quietly. Then she takes a deep breath, slips her hand into Kurt's, and says, "It doesn't matter," her voice still a little wobbly. "It doesn't... I thought I could change things, but I couldn't. We can't... We're just variables, now."

Kurt looks at Brittany; Burt looks at the both of them. Rose and Bernard look at each other. And that's all they do, look. No one says anything, no one asks, so finally, Juliet does it herself.

"But that's a good thing, isn't it?" she asks. "Being a variable -- you can influence things, you can --"

Brittany just shakes her head. "That's science, maybe," she says. "But this is physics, and physics is math, and math is... It's like x. X, by itself, could be anything. But when you look at x when it's in a problem, then it has to be only one thing. It can't change the problem to suit itself. The problem changes the variable."

"So the question is," Burt says, staring off at the cloud of dust that Kate's Jeep has left behind, "how exactly is this problem going to change us?"

Brittany doesn't answer that.

No one else does either.