Characters: Penny, Daniel
Disclaimer: Lost is not mine. Seriously? Seriously.
Spoilers: Up to The Incident
Summary: The same day Desmond’s released from prison, Penny meets a man named Daniel who tells her she’s his hydrogen bomb. For valhalla37’s prompt: Desmond, Daniel, Penny – past/present. Won best Gen fic at lost_fic_awards in June 2009.
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The plan was inherently simple. Take the train to Plymouth. Partake in the company of an old school friend and her husband. Stay for the weekend and consume copious amounts of whatever liquor they had on hand. Avoid any talk about her love life. Nurse her predicted hangover with many cups of tea. Have a good cry over her love life. Get dragged to the seashore at least once for ‘fresh air’. Then, return home with it all out of her system and start planning her wedding.
Penny’s first sign that her plan was about to grow more complicated was when she boarded the train and found her seat occupied by a man who could best be described as indecisive. Everything about him appeared only halfway there; he either had to grow his hair or cut it, iron his shirt or remove the tie, keep moving or stay still. As it was, he sat with his face buried in a leather bound book of some sort, while one hand fidgeted near his temple, conducting an invisible orchestra.
“Excuse me.” Penny refers to the ticket in her hand once more. “I believe you’re in my seat.”
Her voice snaps the man out of whatever twitchy reverie he had found himself in. If before he had been vibrating slightly, he now went completely still at the sight of her.
“You’re in my seat,” Penny repeats, wondering perhaps if he was a foreigner. That would explain how out of place he looked.
This time her words penetrate. “Of course,” he says with surprising grace. He rises and gathers his things from the empty seat beside him. Penny steps back to let him pass into the aisle, and then slips into her seat. She tucks her shoulder bag away, and removes her sweater. It was then she notices that the man still stood where he was, and when her gaze met his, he takes it as an invitation to reseat himself next to her. Just her luck, Penny thinks. At least he looks quiet, and hopefully wouldn’t natter to her all the way to Plymouth. To discourage this, she removes a paperback from her purse and starts to read.
The words on the page are not enough to keep her attention. Instead she keeps revisiting her decision to leave London this weekend. She imagines her phone ringing in the empty apartment. Maybe he would even try to see her. Did he have anywhere to go? No, it wasn’t her problem anymore, she reminds herself. She was with Fred now, and anything to do with Desmond was long in the past. That’s what this weekend was about. Desmond gained his freedom today, and so would she.
The train starts with a lurch, causing her book to slide from her lap to her feet. The man beats her to retrieving it, and hands it over with a nervous smile.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” he begins, and pauses to clear his throat. “Is this train going to Plymouth?”
Considering the train had already pulled out of Paddington Station, she hopes the affirmative was what he was looking for. Either that or he could think of no better way to begin a conversation.
Penny nods, and the man’s face lights up at her response. To be polite, she returns his smile, and twists the engagement ring slightly so her status is obvious and holds his interested gaze. If he's going to flirt, they better get this over with now so she could make it through the rest of her journey in peace.
“I’m Daniel Faraday.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, finally.”
Considering they had only been sitting together less than ten minutes, the “finally” seems a touch desperate. Then she reconsiders; perhaps this assessment was unfair since the man came across as fairly harmless, that is, until he starts speaking again.
“Do you believe in destiny?”
Penny’s mouth opens into an O, then her lips fold into a tight line. “No, I do not.”
“Good, that’s good.” His head bobs earnestly, and he leans closer, dropping his voice. “My mother never understood that course correction could work both ways, one slight shift by a variable, and a new path is formed. We think whatever happens, happens only because we would never know the difference.”
Penny dips her head towards her book. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’d just like to read.”
“Now this is going to sound crazy,” he continues as if he hadn’t heard her, and perhaps he hadn’t. His eyes have a glassy sheen of someone operating on another plane of existence. “But I’ve been going back over everything, and it seems you’re the most important variable of all because….”
As he rambles, Penny stops listening and glances over one of his bony shoulders, scanning for an empty seat to move to. The car is full, but perhaps she could ask the conductor to move her to another compartment when he came to collect their tickets.
“…Desmond already proved that…”
“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” Her voice borders on shrill, and suddenly she reconsiders this man with suspicion bordering on apprehension.
“I told Desmond to find his constant, but you’re really a variable. You’re the one who puts things in motion, and that’s critical—.”
“Who are you?” Penny’s polite façade had vanished the moment he spoke the name Desmond. “What sort of game are you playing?”
Her raised voice draws the attention of their fellow passengers, but it has the opposite effect on Daniel. Just as the noise of a passing car would scatter pigeons gathered on the road, Daniel retreats elsewhere for a moment. He stares straight at the back of the seat in front of him, and not even a blink disturbs his stillness. Penny contemplates using the opportunity to change seats, and wonders if she could get by without him noticing, when he comes back to himself with a gasp.
“How long was I gone?” He asks her with such honest concern that Penny can’t help feel sympathy for this obviously confused man.
“About a minute?”
By the little nods he gives, her answer satisfies or at least doesn't alarm him further. To orientate himself further, he consults the journal on his lap. As he flips through the pages, Penny cranes her neck and catches a glimpse of its scribbled contents. The page he settles on has a number of dates arranged in a column with arrows woven around them. Opposite that page were dozens of mathematic formulas or perhaps a very large one. After running his finger down the margin and muttering something that sounds like Penny and Plymouth, he closes the book.
“I don’t have time to explain myself properly and I understand how unfair that is to you,” he says, gesturing with both hands to emphasize the importance of his words and actions. “Would you please just listen?”
Penny notices the conductor has entered their car and was beginning to check tickets. This gave Daniel about three minutes to start making sense or she wasn’t above telling the conductor this man was harassing her.
“I’m looking for the beginning of a chain reaction.” He taps the cover of his journal. “I hope you’re it because the other option is much more dangerous.”
Her eyes narrow as a thought occurs to her. “Did you meet Desmond in prison?”
The question catches Daniel off guard, and he cocks his head. “No. We met on a...I met him at Oxford...,” he pauses and uses his thumb to count off something on his fingers, “...a few years ago.”
“What does this have to do with me? Did you know I would be on this train?”
“Yes, and I’m here to tell you, you need to convince Desmond not to go—.”
“Listen, I don’t know what he told you, but Desmond made it clear he doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
It surprises her how bitter she sounds. If she didn’t care about him any longer, it shouldn’t hurt so much to think about how they left things. But then again, it should be obvious that part of her was still invested, otherwise she wouldn’t be running away this weekend. Nor would she have written to him every week during the first year of his sentence, even though he had deliberately ignored her at his hearing, and never written a word back.
Eventually she had given up, and did her best to put him out of her mind. She started dating again and met a very nice young man named Fred who taught fourth grade and played the piano and never let her down. Despite all that, she was well aware that Desmond was being released from prison today. Two weeks ago she had written once more and offered, as a friend, to pick him up. When he didn’t reply, she decided to draw the line for a final time.
“The Desmond I know is madly in love with you.” Daniel expresses this statement like a fact a professor would write on the blackboard and underline several times.
“You’ve got the mad part right.”
“When was the last time you talked to him?”
She is taken back to the night almost three years ago when he appeared on her stoop begging for her new phone number. He had seemed so interested in connecting with her then, which is why she couldn’t understand his reluctance to reply to her letters, unless he was stubbornly sticking to his insane promise not to call her until 2004. “One doesn’t talk to Desmond anymore,” she says sharply. “You can only be a prop in his one-man drama.”
In the face of her criticism, Daniel looks pained, as if her words particularly wounded him. “Believe me, he is very alone right now,” he says. “And I’m certain he would do anything for a second chance.”
Penny raises an eyebrow at Daniel’s sincerity, and it strikes her that he is the one who appears desperate for another chance at something. “What’s in this for you?”
He offers a crooked smile. “You’re my hydrogen bomb.”
Nothing this man said had yet to make any sense, and this statement drains the last of her patience. “What?”
“In just over a year, Desmond is going to travel to the United States, where he will enter a sailing race sponsored by your father’s company. I need you to give him a reason not to do that.”
“Clearly you don’t know Desmond very well. I gave him a reason not to go anywhere a long time ago.”
“I know this doesn’t make sense, but if you don’t convince him to stay, he’ll end up stuck on an island for over three years and a lot of awful things will happen while he’s there.”
Penny wants to tell Daniel he’s insane, but once again his genuine sincerity causes her to amend her words, and instead she asks wearily, “How do you know this?”
“Because I saw it,” he says without any embellishment beyond his own conviction.
She sighs and sinks back into her seat, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You two make a good pair. Just tell Desmond all this and be done with it. He’ll eat up your destiny nonsense.”
When she looks over at Daniel, she realizes why he has no retort for her. He had fallen into that trance again. She waves a hand across his eyes, but there is no response.
Meanwhile the conductor chose that moment to lean over their seats and ask for their tickets. Of course, Daniel doesn’t respond, so the conductor gives his shoulder a little shake. “Your ticket, sir.” He tries again, causing Daniel’s chin to fall to his chest.
The conductor looks to Penny for help but she can only shrug. She touches his hand, and says, “Daniel?”
Daniel awakes with a start, calling out, “Charlotte!” Beads of sweat dot his forehead and he looks around, wide eyed and displaced.
“Your ticket, sir.”
He stares at the conductor with a complete lack of comprehension. In confusion he turns to Penny, and she can’t help but feel sorry for him again. “Maybe it’s in your journal,” she suggests gently.
Appreciation floods his eyes and he turns to the book in his lap and opens it. A ticket falls from between the pages and he hands it over.
“Sir, this is for the Oxford train. This is an Express to Plymouth.”
“Plymouth, right...,” Daniel says, and then he looks to Penny with renewed recognition. “Plymouth.”
“You’ll have to get off at Reading and change trains. Stay where you are. I’ll be back to collect you when it’s time.”
The conductor departs with an added warning for Daniel to be more careful in the future. He sits stunned and silent and Penny thinks perhaps he’s drifted off again, when he says, “I apologize. The lapses are unavoidable. You’re Penny Widmore.”
Her brow furrows. “Yes.”
“Did I tell you what to do?”
“Yes and no.”
“Did you believe me?”
“I’m sorry, it’s just…”
“It’s okay, I know that tone.” Now it’s his turn to sigh, and look defeated. He rubs his temple, and once more he flips through the pages of his journal. He finds a blank page and retrieves a pen from his pocket and begins to write.
Penny takes his distraction as an opportunity to gather herself. She looks out the window at the passing scenery. The train races through a residential neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city. They pass by a series of backyards and she catches tiny glimpses of strangers’ lives. Spring flowers are blooming in one garden. Two boys fence with sticks in another. Some family is optimistic enough about the London weather to have put in an above ground pool. Their neighbour looks to have not cut their lawn since last summer. It’s all unbearably sad and terribly beautiful. This is what she wants, a backyard for her life, be it overgrown or neat and tidy. She could have this easily with Fred. Why does she stubbornly imagine it all with Desmond? She turns back to Daniel to find him looking longingly out the window too.
The city disappears and is replaced with farm land. The change in scenery prompts Daniel to talk again. “Can you do one thing for me? It doesn’t involve Desmond.”
“What is it?”
“The future may indeed be a question mark, but the past is knowable. Your father has a connection to the island; it was once his home...,” Daniel explains and pauses so Penny can process that startling news. “If you can’t get him to talk about it, use your access to Widmore Industries and conduct your own research. This is bigger than you and Desmond, and you could help a lot of people.”
“And my mother,” he says solemnly, but offers no other context. Then he rips out the page he was working on from his journal and hands it to her. She takes it with some reluctance. On it is a list of four items neatly printed: The Dharma Initiative, Benjamin Linus, Oceanic Flight 815, December 24, 2004.
The second name rings somewhat of a bell. She has a vague memory of walking into her father’s penthouse one evening not so long ago to hear raised voices. She found him in the den exchanging harsh words with a haughty woman, who, when Penny entered the room, flounced passed her with a sweep of her wrap. Before the woman left, she had uttered words that sounded like a prophecy, “Benjamin Linus will doom us all.” Her father had waved away Penny’s inquiries by explaining he was facing a hostile takeover at a property he had been hoping to acquire.
The date also stood out as significant. It was when Desmond had vowed to call her.
“I know this date.”
He nods knowingly. “Maybe my mother is right and what I’ve done today will just set you on the same path you’ve always followed. You’ll grow curious about all this but be unable to stop Desmond from leaving. If all else fails,” his face crumples at that thought, “be home on this date and answer your phone. He will call you.”
It would be easy to dismiss Daniel as an eccentric loon with a penchant for playing cupid, if it weren’t for the way he wore his own heart on his sleeve. That part reminded Penny very much of herself. Hadn’t she exposed herself to ridicule and rejection by offering her love to man who consistently swatted it away? Did that make her as naïve or crazy as Daniel? Or did she, like him, see a future where no one else did?
“I’ll do my best.”
An announcement is made that the train is stopping at Reading in a few minutes. Daniel combs his hair back with his fingers and straightens his tie. He gets up and retrieves a jacket and briefcase from the overhead compartment. He places the bag on his seat and puts the journal inside. Each of his movements are performed with resolve as though he’s convinced himself that he’s done all he could.
“Well, good bye,” he says as the train slows. “Whatever happens, I’m glad we had a chance to meet.”
“Daniel, can I asked you something?”
He looks up and away when he answers, his voice breaking a little. “Charlotte Staples Lewis. She’s a little girl who grows up to be the woman I love.”
Like everything Daniel’s said, it’s a statement wrapped in a history Penny can’t quite grasp, but she can read the sorrow in his words. Daniel holds out his hand to her and she grasps it, almost feeling compelled to take this lost and broken man in her arms, and add a layer of her hope to his. Instead she grips it tightly, and says, “I’ll do what I can. I promise.”
The train comes to a stop, and the motion breaks their handshake. Daniel picks up his bag and leaves without saying anything else. Penny settles back into her seat and stares at the paper he gave her, wondering what to do with it. As easy as it would be to toss it away, she wouldn’t be able to shake the memory of Daniel so simply. It couldn’t hurt to look into the things he’s written, if only to satisfy her curiosity. It might even give some closure to Desmond’s frantic appearance and phone number request. Plus it might give her some insight into another man who is practically a mystery to her, her father.
As the train departs, Penny catches one last glimpse of Daniel. He’s standing on the platform, turning in a slow circle, unsure of which way to go. He sees her and raises one hand in a tentative wave. She does the same and he smiles, then disappears into a throng of people.
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