Disclaimer: I'm just having my wicked fun with them. No harm intended!
SUMMARY: Claire worries about Charlie's health, and confronts him about it. Immediately follows the events of "Walkabout."
RATING: PG-13 (For a little language and description of drug use)
My second Music Factory fic! I call them the Music Factory because of the abbreviation of their first names: C&C. As in C&C Music Factory? Ha-ha-ha. LOL! I'm an idiot when it comes to puns. They're going to be the death of me someday. ;) LOL! I want to thank everyone for their kind reviews of my FIRST CharlieClaire fic, "See Me in the Dark." You're all so kind! I certainly hope you enjoy this one as well! Please let me know if you do! And if you don't… well, no one's MAKING you read this. So shoo! The rest of you -- enjoy!
The fire still raged in the fuselage, and Claire was drained as a used teabag. The effort of putting together the memorial service and then reading the actual names had spent most of her energy, and by the end she'd been running on nothing but pure adrenaline and the RIGHTNESS of it all. She understood Jack's ultimatum that the bodies needed to be dealt with, but she supposed that was where their interpretation of the situation diverged. Jack saw them as dead bodies -- she saw them as dead people; and people needed to be remembered, even in tiny ways, to ensure their lives had meaning. Either way, spending the day roasting in the sun, sorting through letters and passports and scrap pieces of paper, all the while carrying a kicking watermelon in her stomach, had left her physically and emotionally exhausted.
Hurley had been kind enough to set up a private tent for her, slightly set apart from the group, so she could scurry off to "use the ladies" without worrying about disturbing her fellow castaways. It wasn't a tent so much as a tarp draped over a few pieces of twisted metal, but she was thankful for the gift, and for the privacy it provided her as she sat back against the warm tropical sand and watched the fuselage burn, tears blurring her vision. So much life lost in such a short time. It was one of the truths of the universe that everyone was alive one second and gone the next; but when so much death was concentrated in such a small space, it magnified the loss a hundredfold.
The fuselage crackled and spat flame. Claire pressed a hand to her rounded stomach and wondered how many mothers had lost their children to that pyre.
"I don't think I'll ever want another marshmallow."
Claire's head jerked up to find Charlie hovering at the edge of her tent. His eyes were riveted to the burning plane, and she followed his gaze as she asked, "Because of that?"
Charlie nodded. "You're upwind here, so you can't smell it. It smells like burning hair and cooking meat." He shuddered and she raised her eyes again to see him look at her. "Have you ever smelled burning hair?"
Claire didn't know what to say, so she said nothing and shook her head.
Charlie blanched in the firelight. "Sorry," he apologized sheepishly. "Not a nice subject, I suppose. 'Specially not for a pregnant woman."
Claire couldn't resist a smile despite the dour subject. "Not for anyone, really," she amended.
"Well, yeah. But you 'specially." He gestured vaguely towards her stomach. "I mean… new life, right? Why would you want to think about death? The rest of us…" He shrugged and looked back to the plane.
"I play Doom and Resident Evil," he mused, hood up and hands tucked in his pockets. "I shouldn't really care about seeing that, smelling those things. But I do."
Claire tilted her head and watched him quietly for a moment. She didn't really understand Charlie. They'd chatted amiably a few times since the crash, most notably the day he'd helped her with her luggage, but she could never shake the feeling that she was talking to two people when she spoke to him. The Surface Charlie, who liked wisecracks and had a twinkle in his eye; and the Buried Charlie, who lived underneath that mischievous façade and extinguished that twinkle whenever he was alone. She liked him best when he was smiling, and Surface Charlie was in control. There was something eerily hollow about him when Buried Charlie came to the fore. She didn't like to think about it, and she would never say it aloud, but she was fairly certain Buried Charlie was dead.
It scared her that she didn't know which of the two was the REAL Charlie: the zombie or the clown.
"Can I sit down?" She shook herself out of her reverie and saw that Charlie was looking at her again.
"Of course," she said, managing a smile, and patted the ground beside her. "Last I checked, sand was still free."
Charlie chuckled as he sat. "You never know," he joked. "The taxman can find fleas on a tick. I'm sure he can find two people on a beach."
"That would be the first time I'd ever be glad to see the taxman."
He laughed again, and Claire decided he had a very nice laugh. It was a little dry and raspy, like his voice, but playful at the same time. She thought he should use it more often.
They sat quietly for a little while, and Claire took the opportunity to examine her contemporary in greater detail. His skin was pale, even in the acrid orange light cast by the burning plane. Dark circles rimmed his eyes, and he was shivering slightly. That struck her as odd, since it was quite a warm night and the fire was casting heat in all directions. Claire herself was a little uncomfortable in the muggy air, and was considering moving even farther away from the fire. With a jolt she realized he might be sick; perhaps due to some preexisting condition, or something he'd contracted after the crash. Thinking back on it now, she realized that he seemed to go through phases of intense energy, followed by periods of tremendous fatigue. She wondered if he had some kind of low grade flu, or maybe walking pneumonia. Perhaps she should suggest he talk to Jack?
"Have you eaten?" she asked suddenly, thinking of the barely-touched plate of pork at her elbow. The thought of food had turned her stomach after the day's events, and while she appreciated Kate giving her such a large portion, she'd only been able to nibble at it. Charlie, on the other hand, looked like he could eat a horse and come back for seconds.
He looked back at her over his shoulder, eyes slightly dazed. "Hmm? Oh, no. Not yet. I was going to have a bit of fish earlier, but that never materialized. Rotten luck."
A pang of sympathy arched through Claire's body as she looked at him. "Would you like my dinner?" she asked. "I swear, I didn't spit on it. It's quite tasty, actually. But my soccer superstar here wasn't interested." She patted her belly, then pushed herself into a more upright position, reaching for her forgotten dinner. "It's only lukewarm now, but if you close your eyes and don't breathe too deep, you could believe it's roast beef."
Charlie shied away from the proffered plastic dish, holding up his hands to ward her off. "No, you should have that," he argued. "You're eating for two."
"I had some already," she said, embellishing the truth a little. With a soft smile, she set the dish on the ground in front of him. "Don't worry about me, Charlie. I'm liable to suffer more by worrying about you than by skipping one meal."
"You shouldn't worry about me."
"My maternal instincts won't let me NOT worry. I worry about everyone on this island. Put a pregnant woman's mind at ease and eat? Please?" Without thought, she reached out and covered his hand with her own, giving it a comforting squeeze. His skin was clammy, and her worry doubled instantly.
Charlie hesitated, then gave her a small smile. "All right," he agreed, pulling his hand away from hers and picking up the plastic dish. "But only if you promise to clean your plate next time you eat."
Claire couldn't resist a giggle at the charming glimmer in his eye. "I promise."
"I'll watch you, you know. Make sure you do."
"Eat up before it goes ice cold." She laughed a little at herself as she watched him tuck in with the spork Kate had included with the meal. "I'm already sounding like a mother, aren't I? I just hope I don't turn insufferable."
"You'll be fine," he said around a mouthful, before swallowing and pointing at her with the spoon-fork hybrid. "I've known some rubbish mothers in my time, and you don't match any of the criteria."
Tilting her head to one side, Claire considered him as he shoveled another chunk of meat into his mouth. She'd previously noticed the writing on the tape he had wrapped around his fingers, and knew that he changed the words on occasion. The last she'd seen, it read L-A-T-E, but that had changed. Now it said S-A-T-E. He must have been VERY hungry.
"Charlie, is everything all right?" she heard herself asking.
He looked up from the remainders of his meal and blinked at her. "Yeah," he said, swallowing his bite. "Everything's peachy. Why?"
"I don't know," she said quietly. "You just look so pale. I'm not trying to be nosy," she added hurriedly when she saw the look of discomfort on his face. "But if you're sick, you should talk to Jack. He can help. He's done wonders for me." She smiled for him, hoping to erase the uncomfortable tension that had suddenly sprung up between them.
"I'm not sick. Why would you think I'm sick?" Charlie demanded, putting down the plate and wiping his hands on his pant legs.
"We were in a plane crash. We're in a day to day struggle to stay alive. It wears a guy out, Claire. Maybe Jack and Sawyer and Sayid and all them don't show it, but we're not all supermen, you know. We're not all BLOODY bulletproof."
Claire shrank back at the vitriol in his voice. Surface Charlie had disappeared, and this was Buried Charlie. She recognized the bottomless pits of his eyes. "Charlie, I'm not accusing you," she pleaded softly. "I'm not trying to say you're weak. You're not. You've made it this far, and that's more than a lot of other people can say. But if something's wrong, you need help." She searched her mind frantically for an easy answer. "You don't have to go to Jack," she blurted out. "You can talk to ME. I'm not a doctor, and the most I know about medicine is that you have to rip a band-aid off fast if you want it to hurt less; but I can listen. Sometimes all a person needs to do is talk about a problem to make that problem easier to handle." She sat forward again, braving the thunderheads in his eyes. "Share the weight, and it's twice as light."
They stared at each other for a minute, but it was Charlie who looked away first, breaking the stormy connection. "I'm fine, Claire," he muttered, sounding more broken than angry. Pushing up on his hands, he lifted himself to his feet. "I'm not sick, so don't worry about me, all right? I'm just tired. People get tired. I just need some sleep."
He started to walk away, which was absolutely unacceptable. There were unresolved issues here, and she didn't like loose threads. Besides, she didn't want to lose even one of the friendships she'd managed to forge on this island; they were each too important to her. Flinging out a hand after him, she called out, "Charlie, please! I can't go sprinting after you, but I will if you don't turn around and come back here and talk to me!"
He stopped, but he didn't turn around. Well, half was better than nothing.
"Are you going to make me shout everything to you?" she asked. "I can, if you'd like. But I think we'd both prefer it if you came back here and sat with me so we could talk one on one, like regular people."
After a moment, he turned. It looked like Surface Charlie was back, but he'd been put through a meat press somewhere along the way. His eyes were hollow and sunken, and the shadows made it look as though he wore a mask.
"I'm not regular people, Claire," he murmured.
Claire's eyes softened. "No," she said softly. "You're not. You're Charlie." Sighing quietly, she hoisted herself into an upright position, as close to 90 degrees as she could get with her rounded belly. "I know I said I worry about everyone on this island, but the truth is I worry about some more than others." She held out a hand to him. "And I worry about you more than most, Charlie."
He frowned. "Why?" He sounded truly nonplussed.
Claire shrugged. "Because you're you," she explained. "Because we've had nice conversations, and because you make me laugh." Flexing her hand at him, she continued, "Please, come sit with me. I won't ask you any more questions, I promise. But finish eating?" Trying to lighten the mood a little, she joked, "If you don't I'll have to throw it into the woods or the sea, and that would mean I'd have to get up, which is no easy feat, I don't mind telling you." This time she patted the ground beside her. "Please?"
Charlie seemed to be fighting an inner battle with some unseen opponent in his head. When at last he DID move, it was to take a step in Claire's direction and sink down next to her on the sand. But he didn't reach for the plate.
"Did you know I'm a rock star?" he asked softly, his usually playful eyes dreadfully serious.
Claire blinked at the suddenness of the revelation. "I… No, I didn't-" she stammered.
"Doesn't matter," he broke in with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Nobody does. Not 'less I remind them." He paused for a second, then a dry chuckle broke from his throat. "Guess that doesn't mean I'm a rock star so much as a FALLEN rock star, eh?" He turned his head to look over his shoulder at the flame-licked plane. "Crash and burn," he muttered.
Confusion didn't begin to describe Claire's mindset at the moment. "Charlie, what are you talking about?" she asked, flustered. "What does this have to do with anything?"
He turned back to her, and now the seriousness was gone from his face, replaced by an eerie aloofness that made her skin crawl. "I visited a gypsy palm reader once, in London, before the first album was finished. She took one look at my hand and said I had a long short life ahead of me." He grinned. "Sounds crazy, doesn't it? I thought it was crazy. The guys and I joked about it all the way back to the studio, and we cranked out this crazy cover of 'Love Potion #9' to sort of memorialize the event, which turned into track nine on the album. A bit of a cult favorite among the loyal fanbase. Anyway, after that, we went to our favorite pub -- read, cheapest in the area -- and drank like fish. That's when I met Crusty."
Claire's brow furrowed. "Who?"
"Crusty," Charlie repeated. "Petty criminal. Pothead. He wasn't much use for anything, except a good time. He had those in spades. Lots and lots of spades. I'd seen him before, when Reggie -- our lead guitarist -- would call him up to get some weed. But I'd never really MET him before, until that night. And we started talking -- don't know why. You'll talk to anyone when you've got a joint in one hand and a pint in the other." His fingers were tapping distractedly against his knee in a frantic, uncoordinated rhythm. "Somehow we got talking about our respective careers and how neither of them would ever get either of us anywhere, but fuck it, right? Who needs fame when you're living the DREAM. I was on my own and out of the family's basement and making a living strumming my bass. And he had some of the most powerful people in London in his back pocket, because he wasn't a drug peddler -- he was a power player. And he started telling me how this actor liked this drug, and that politician liked another one, and on and on. 'If you're gonna be a rock star,' he says, 'If you're gonna play with the big boys, you've gotta PLAY with the big boys.'
"That's when he introduced me to Big Harry."
Claire blinked. "Who?"
"Not who." He sighed and ran a hand over his face. "What."
She watched with puzzlement as he bent forward over his knees and tugged off one of his checkerboard sneakers. After fishing around inside for a second, he pulled out a rumpled plastic baggie, keeping it low and out of sight of all but the two of them.
Claire's eyes widened as she looked at what he was holding. "Is that…?" She trailed off, staring at the pale brown powder in the bag.
"I was only going to try it once," Charlie said, as if she hadn't spoken. His eyes were riveted to the baggie as if she wasn't even there. She wondered if he even remembered he was talking to someone other than himself. "Just to see how the big boys lived. That was all it was supposed to be. But when I tried it, and everything just disappeared…"
He trailed off, and for a moment they were silent. Then Charlie's head snapped up, and he found her eyes, and his eyes were BURNING; they were on FIRE. "I had a week's supply left when we got on the plane," he hissed fervently, fingers frantically toying with the baggie. "ONE WEEK. I figured, hey, no problem, just got to get through customs, clear the entry gate, and we're golden. I can pick up plenty more in Los Angeles, right? I've done it before. It's just a bit of bait and switch. Just some misdirection. Make them think the dogs are sniffing it on the bloke who was sitting next to you, and hightail it out of the terminal while they're distracted. It was going to be SIMPLE. It was going to WORK." A low groan worked its way past his lips, and Claire watched as he doubled up over his knees, burying his free hand in his hair and rocking back and forth. Tight, rigid motion, as though he were fighting off bitter cold.
Claire didn't know what to say. Without a doubt it had cost him far more to tell her about his addiction than it cost her to listen, but she wasn't thankful for the reprieve. A selfish piece of her wished he hadn't said anything, wished she hadn't offered to share his burden. This was outside her sphere of expertise. How was she supposed to handle this? How was she supposed to shoulder even a pennyweight of this load, when it was literally tearing him apart as she watched? The drugs were only a fraction of Charlie's problems. The deeper issues -- the reasons he took the drugs -- were what worried her the most. "Why did you tell me this?" she wanted to say. "Why did you give me the job of helping you? I don't want it. It's too much. I'll break you. YOU'LL break ME. I don't know what to do! Somebody, help me!"
"Charlie," she whispered instead, reaching out and laying a hand on his knee. He didn't respond to the touch, so she kept talking. "I don't even know what this must be like for you. Stuck here on this island, knowing how… bad things are going to get for you." She shivered, thinking of all the movies and television programs she'd watched that played out -- in gory detail -- the agonies and effects of drug withdrawal. "But I meant what I said. I'll help. I don't know how, but I'll help. In any way I can. I promise."
Charlie's head came up, his face twisted into a self-derisive grimace. "Don't try, Claire," he said through gritted teeth. "I'm a hopeless case, all right? Any smart person would have talked to Jack when this all started and would have gotten… some kind of … help…" He shook his head and slammed the heel of his free hand against his forehead as his other hand clutched the baggie even tighter.
"Hey," Claire soothed, reaching up to grab his hand and pull it away from his forehead, squeezing his fingers tightly. "You DID get help. You talked to me."
"No offense, Claire," he said with a breathless laugh, "but that's not exactly help."
"Then what is it?" she asked, hoping to draw him out of his shell and bring him back to a point where she could talk to him. "Why did you tell me all this?"
His frantic rocking stilled, and after a moment, he raised his head again. Dazed eyes met her own. "I just… wanted someone to know," he said.
"Know what?" she asked gently, fingers itching to reach up and stroke his hair behind his ear. But she didn't dare let go of his hand. "How you got started?"
Charlie shook his head, and with a deft motion twisted his hand in her grasp so that HE was holding HER hand. He squeezed gently.
"Who I am," he whispered. "I just wanted someone to know who Charlie Pace REALLY is. Because when things get bad and everything goes to hell in a shiny wicker basket, I'm going to lose me altogether, and no one else is going to SEE me. I just needed someone -- one person -- to KNOW." His eyes were a little desperate as he squeezed her hand in a vice-like grip.
Claire struggled not to wince as his fingers dug into her skin. "I know you, Charlie," she assured him softly. "Whether you'd told me all of this or not, I know Charlie Pace." This time she gave in, extricated her hand from his grasp, and reached up to run her fingers through his hair, brushing some errant fly-aways behind his ear. "And after everything comes BACK from Hell in a charred wicker basket, I'll tell you about him. He's a remarkably good guy. Sweet and funny and only slightly broken. You'll like him. I do."
She let her fingers wander down from his temple to cup his cheek, and he unconsciously leaned into the touch. His blue-green eyes were watching her as if from a great distance, and the baggie of heroin dangled from his limp fingers.
"I can take that from you, you know," she murmured, running her thumb in calming strokes over his cheekbone and nodding to the powder. "Throw it in the ocean, mix it with the sand. Toss it in that fire over there and let it burn away like everything else. Just ask, and I'll do it."
A small smile touched Charlie's lips. "I wouldn't do that, Claire," he said softly. "I don't think I could just watch someone walk away with it and let them go. I'm pretty sure I'd end up tackling you before you got three steps."
"I don't want to know you're still using it."
"I won't make you watch."
"But I'll KNOW."
"And I'll know you know, so we both lose out in the end. It's not a fun monkey, but it's MY monkey, and if I'm going to get rid of it, then I want to do it myself." He sighed, dropped his hand and tucked the heroin back into his shoe. Claire watched, letting her hand fall from his face to rest on his chest, fingers grazing over his heart.
"You're going to get rid of it," she murmured. It wasn't a question.
"In the only way I know how," he answered, sliding the shoe back on his foot.
"I'm a junkie, Claire." He looked up finally, meeting her eyes unapologetically. "It's what I am."
"Only a piece," she corrected him, tapping her fingers over his heart. "Only a piece of what you are. Don't forget that."
"Yeah." He snorted softly. "Just a bloody big piece. Like Russia." He started to stand, but Claire grabbed his arm, holding him in place.
"You still haven't finished eating," she reminded him.
Charlie looked past her, to the half-eaten meal he'd left behind. "No appetite," he told her.
"Find one?" She loosened her hold on his wrist. "Please?"
He hesitated for a second. The trembling of his muscles was evident even through their minor contact, and Claire knew he wanted to bolt. But after a second he nodded and sat slowly next to her again. "Right," he said. "I'll try."
Claire managed a smile and reached behind her to grab the remains of the meal he'd been working on earlier. Charlie took it from her, and after a moment, he tore off a shred with his fingers and held it up for her. "You, too," he said.
Claire blinked, looking at the chunk of boar meat. "What?"
"I'm an Equal Opportunity Worrier," he told her. "You thought you could worry about me without any kind of payback? Newsflash, lovely lady. It doesn't work that way." He waved the meat at her. "You eat with me, or I don't eat at all."
Claire made a face. "Charlie, I told you my stomach wouldn't take it."
"And you think mine's happy about the arrangement?" He chuckled. "Not likely. Eat."
She gave him a stern look, but couldn't hold it for long. Eventually it melted into a grin. "All right," she said. "But I'm not going to eat out of your hand like a baby goat." Reaching out, she grabbed up the spork, tore off a piece of meat with the blunt prongs, and raised it to him in salute. "Bon appetit," she said, and popped the now cold meat into her mouth. It really DID taste like roast beef, if she didn't pay too much attention.
Charlie watched her chew, shrugged, and popped his own morsel into his mouth. "You've got a problem with my hands?" he asked around the bite as he pulled another piece of meat off the bone.
"Do you have a problem with utensils?"
"Only when they get in the way of eating."
They finished the meat quickly enough, and Charlie said she should sleep. And Claire said he should, too. And Charlie said he would. And Claire knew he was lying. And she stretched out on the blanket that had been her constant companion since the crash, and listened to his thready breathing beside her. And she pretended to sleep. And she heard him get up and all but run for the cover of the midnight jungle. And she lay in the silence, listening to the dying crackling of the fire in the fuselage, and wondered if the others in camp had noticed their little conversation. And she decided she didn't really care. And she waited a little longer. And eventually she heard the thud of heavy footsteps, and then he was back and sprawled out beside her. And his breathing was more even, and he was asleep in minutes, and Claire let herself drift off as well, comforted by the knowledge that, if he hadn't gotten rid of the monkey on his back entirely, at least it was a few grams lighter.