Letting Go

by Dreamality

Rating: PG for drug references

Summary: Ten years after the crash, Charlie and Claire return to Australia to the place where their journey began and reunite with the people they spent a year of their lives living with. Charlie reflects on the events that have shaped him as a man and learns to let go of the things that have been holding him back.

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My heart was beating abnormally fast when I got onto the plane. I nodded briefly at the smiling, friendly flight attendants and quickly located my seat, which I sank into shakily. My hands fumbled with the seatbelt, trying to fasten it. Bloody thing didn't work right. It wouldn't go in. My frustration grew as I tried to fasten it until soft, gentle hands covered mine and smoothly guided the two parts of the seatbelt together, then tugged it tighter.

"Easy there, Charlie," a teasing voice said in my ear.

I glanced at the woman to my right. She had a beautiful smile, wavy blonde hair, and blue eyes that are impossible not to get lost in. Perhaps the most beautiful things about her were her stomach, swelling with life that I had helped create, and the jewelry that accented her hands; an engagement ring and a wedding band. They were the physical proof that she loved me, and that we were going to be together for a long time, and they were only the tiniest piece of it.

"Thanks, love," I replied, my voice low and rough. She cupped my cheek with a cool hand and leaned forward to place a kiss on my stubble-roughened cheek.

"We don't have to do this," she told me, reiterating a point we had been arguing about for months. Not arguing about, really, because it was impossible for me to be angry with Claire. Just disagreeing about.

"I know, Claire. I want to. Don't you?" I asked.

"Of course I do. I just… Charlie, you don't have to be brave for me," Claire said softly. I smiled and nodded, while inwardly I was shaking my head. That wasn't so. I did have to be strong for Claire, because she spent so much time being strong for me. I was the husband, I was the father, and it was my responsibility to be the man. Yet it was still Claire who was calm and collected on the plane, while I was freaking out.

I tried to sit still while the other passengers were boarding, but I couldn't help it. I had to fidget. Nervous energy was coiled up inside of me waiting to spring, and I had to let some of it out before I became a nervous wreck. I began to tap my wedding band against the arm rest, and soon my foot began to tap as well. My bum was going numb, so I shifted around, trying to find a more comfortable spot. When Claire started to laugh, I went still and looked at her questioningly.

"Goodness, Charlie, you and Robert are getting more alike every day!" she said, looking at her son, who was sitting on her other side. He, too, had been fidgeting, and when he heard his name he stopped, just as I had, and looked at his mother. She put a hand on his head and smoothed his blonde hair, smiling in a way that only a mother can.

"Sorry, Mum," he said sheepishly. His voice was odd and he had an accent that no one could place. It was partially Australian, partially English, and partially American. It was lucky he was good at making friends; otherwise he might not have made it on the playgrounds of grade school.

"Did you get your bubble gum so your ears won't pop?" Claire asked. Robert nodded and patted his pocket where the packet of gum I had bought him resided. On his other side was Ally, our two-year-old daughter. She was sound asleep, mostly leaning on Robert and drooling a little bit on his t-shirt.

They made a lovely picture, Claire and her children, and I had to smile as I looked at them. Then I considered myself. What addition was I to such a picturesque family? Ally and Robert, though only half-siblings, looked striking together, as if they were modeling for a portrait. Claire, with one hand on Robert's head and the other on her stomach, was serenely beautiful. They needed a straight-laced father in a crisp suit, handsome features, and a regular nine-to-five job, but instead they had me. Me, with my torn jeans and my ratty t-shirt and my cheeky smile. I didn't belong in this picture.

Claire felt my eyes on her and looked at me. The hand on her stomach moved to cover my hand. She squeezed it comfortingly and I turned it over so we could lace our fingers together. A yawn came over her and she covered her mouth. I chuckled low in my chest and wrapped my arm around her shoulder. Her head came to rest on my shoulder and her eyes drifted shut. Suddenly my depressing thoughts disappeared and something just clicked in my mind. So what if I wasn't the perfect picture of a father? My Claire loved me, Robert loved me, and Ally loved me. That was all I needed. I rested my head on top of Claire's and closed my eyes, inhaling deeply.

When the plane prepared to take off, my old fears came back again tenfold. Claire sensed this and sat up, slipping her arm behind me so she could hold me closer. Robert and Ally were looking out the window, excitedly exclaiming about everything they saw. Ally clapped her hands in delight and giggled as the plane gathered speed, then lifted its front wheel off the ground and began to climb through the air. When Robert looked over at me, I put on a brave face and smiled.

"Pretty cool, ennit?" I said.

"I love flying! Taking off is the best part. Isn't it so fun, Charlie?" Robert asked, obviously hoping for some sort of approval from me. It never ceased to amaze me that Robert looked up to me. Of course, he didn't know my past. He didn't know about my dark years. He was so young, not yet ten years old, and I didn't want to taint his image of me just yet. In some ways I hoped never to have to, but I knew someday he would have to learn the truth. Maybe I could save him from falling into the same holes I did back when I was a lad.

"Yeah, it's pretty cool, Robert," I answered, hoping he didn't hear the slight crack in my voice. He just grinned and looked out the window again, pointing things out to Ally.

"You all right, Charlie?" Claire asked, looking up at me with concerned eyes. I took a deep breath and nodded.

"Not so bad this time, was it?" I asked, offering a half-smile.

"I love you, Charlie."

"I love you too, Claire." We shared a quick kiss and Claire rested her head on my shoulder again, quickly falling asleep. The baby was exhausting her, more so than Ally ever did. It was nothing like with Robert, of course, but circumstances then had been entirely different. With Robert, she had the added stress of being on a deserted island with monsters roaming about in the jungle and the constant knowledge that we might never be rescued.

I leaned my head back on the seat and closed me eyes, letting my mind wander. It drifted back, of its own accord, to that time and that place.

One decade. Ten years. 3650 days. 87600 hours, give or take.

It's been that long since the day the plane went down.

Nine years. 3285 days. 78840 hours, more or less.

It's been that long since the day we were rescued.

My feelings about the island are mixed. On the one hand, I hate it. I loathe it. I want to see it go crumbling into the sea and stay on the bottom of the ocean for all eternity, rotting and eroding until there it nothing left of it. Forty-seven people landed on the island alive, and only forty left it. The island had so many secrets, many of them deadly, and every time it seemed like we could feel safe on the island, it would remind us that we were never out of danger.

On the other hand, the island was wonderful. I learned so much there and gained so much there, not the least of which being Claire and Robert. Through the year we spent there, I learned how to deal with my addictions and beat down my inner demons. I learned how to shed off my hard exterior shell and let people know who the real Charlie was, not just the cheeky bastard who was overly proud of his C-list rock band.

The conflicting feelings were hard to sort out and after awhile it made my brain hurt. Instead I let my thoughts drift and pause wherever they wished. Images flashed through my mind, of the crash; of the initial, confusing, chaotic days on the island; of stolen moments in the jungle with my beloved baggie; of getting caught by Locke and having someone to lean on when I began to go into withdrawal. The good times and the bad times were intermixed and overlapping and impossible to separate. With every good moment came some bad, and with every bad there was some good.

My favorite memories were of nights spent around the fire, whether on the beach or in the valley near the caves. It was around the fire that I began to open up around my fellow survivors, and it was around the fire that I began to fall in love with Claire. I remember watching her for hours, just staring at her eyes where the firelight was reflected beautifully. Sometimes we would talk, and sometimes she would sit next to me. She never minded when I touched her, whether I just held her hand or put my arm around her. So many nights I dreamed of snogging her, and then felt guilty about it for days following. After all, she was bloody pregnant! She probably had a boyfriend back home that she thought about constantly. She certainly didn't need a git like me polluting her life.

Most of us bonded during the year on the island. How could we not, after going through such an experience together? Even those who seemed the most closed off began to warm up. Sawyer's cynical comments began to take on a teasing tone, and even Shannon started to smile more.

Then the rescue boat came. None of us saw it, since the survivors had split up after a few weeks. I had gone with Jack, Kate, Sayid, Locke, and a few others into the jungle, where the caves and fresh water were. It wasn't that I preferred it to the beach; I just knew that Claire was keen on following the doctor, and I was keen on following Claire. It was the group on the beach, Boone and Michael and Jin and the others, who came running to tell us when the boat came. There was much rejoicing and much celebrating on the way back to Australia, but at soon as the boat docked, we were strangers again with our own lives to worry about. We separated quickly and I got lost in the crowd with no one familiar around me.

Family members were waiting when we got off. None for me, of course, as I had alienated myself from my family long ago. I saw Claire run towards a tall, good-looking man with eyes exactly like Robert's. They embraced and kissed and looked very happy and very in love. It was beautiful, and it made my heart break. Somehow I fought my way through the media frenzy that had gathered, hailed a cab, and went to the nearest hotel, where I slept for literally three days, only getting up for food and to go to the bathroom. Then I called the airport and booked myself a seat on the next flight leaving for England.

Going home was not as great as I had once imagined. I met up with my old mates and quickly fell back into my old routine of partying, drinking, and getting high almost every night.

I waited for months to get answers that never came. No one ever bothered to tell us what had been happening on that island. No one, not the Australian government, not the French government, not the American government, not the British government, could tell us, or perhaps would tell us, why there were polar bears and monsters and skeletons. It frustrated me and made me angry, which I remedied by getting high.

A year passed like that, with me spiraling ever downward into the black hole of depression and addiction. I think part of me longed for the island, as dangerous and unpredictable as it was. I liked the seclusion, the complete separation from society and technology. The other part of me missed Claire terribly. No matter what, I couldn't stop thinking about her. I found myself gravitating towards the blonde women, the women with names that started with C, any woman with even a hint of an Australian accent. A few times I actually called out her name, but whatever girl I was with was too high to notice.

Then, suddenly, without warning, Claire showed up. Well, not exactly "showed up," but came back into my life. It started with a phone call. She somehow tracked down my number, proof that I didn't deserve her. Why hadn't I ever bothered to do that?

Soon, she came out to visit me. She learned the secrets I had hidden from everyone on the island, with the exception of Locke, and instead of being repulsed, she was sympathetic. It was Claire who convinced me to go to rehab, and she supported me through my three month battle against my relapse. When I emerged, I said goodbye to Drive Shaft and went back to Australia with Claire.

Soon, the music was calling me again, but this time not as a performer. I wanted to produce, and I knew the best place to find new talent was in LA. I never asked Claire to move there with me, but she did. Within months Claire and I were married and I had a fledgling label company under my name. Robert spent the school year with us in LA and summers in Australia with his father.

The ten year anniversary snuck up on us both. We got a call from Kate a few weeks prior, which was a shock. Neither of us had heard from any of the other survivors after the matter. There had been the initial media frenzy, of course, and some of them were interviewed by Diane Sawyer or wrote books or had movies based on them. I tried my best to stay out of it, which explained why I hadn't seen or heard from the others.

Kate told us that she and Jack –her husband now– were trying to organize a reunion back in Australia. Claire and I agreed that it would be a good idea. We both wanted to see the others, just because what we experienced together was so profound and we really did have a bond with them. We booked plane tickets for the whole family and waited for the day we would reconnect with our past.

The sixteen hour flight went by surprisingly fast. Claire slept for most of it, since the baby's kicking had kept her up for much of the night, and Robert and Ally behaved themselves wonderfully. When the plane landed, Claire woke up and began gathering up all of the carry on bags and started fretting over Robert and Ally. Claire does not fidget, ever, so this surprised me. We were both nervous about this reunion simply because we didn't know what to expect, but Claire always seemed to take things with a smile and a laugh. I suddenly realized how hard I had been leaning on her and how little support I had been giving back.

"Claire, I'll take those," I said, gently taking Robert and Ally's backpacks away from her.

"No, it's all right, Charlie, I can take them," Claire said without looking at me as she pulled them back towards her.

"Claire." She looked at me and I gently brushed a lock of hair out of her face, then cupped her face in both of my hands. "Take it easy, love. Got to think of the little one now."

"I know, Charlie. I'm fine," she said dismissively, glancing down at her stomach. I put one hand on it and rubbed small circles and tipped her chin up to force her to look at me. I rubbed my nose against hers to make her laugh, and then captured her lips in a soft kiss.

"Mom, Ally keeps pulling my hair and she won't stop!" Robert whined, breaking the moment and bringing Claire and I back to the present. We disengaged our mouths, shared a loving smile, and Claire turned to settle the kids down. The passengers were beginning to exit the plane, so I stood up and pulled my bag out of the overhead compartment. Claire heaved herself up and walked ahead of me, with the kids between us. When we were out of the plane, we stopped to get out my cell phone and call Kate. We weren't sure what the plan was or whether we had time to go to the hotel first. Claire spoke briefly to her, then hung up and tucked the phone in an outside pocket of my bag.

"Gate 27, Charlie," she said simply.

Gate 27. I knew that gate. I could remember it perfectly. It was at that gate that I had the first glimpse of my future, even though I didn't know it. I remembered seeing Claire and thinking it was odd for a woman that pregnant to be traveling. I remembered seeing Jack and thinking he looked preoccupied. I remembered seeing Boone and Shannon arguing and wondering if they were dating. I remembered faces of those who had died and faces of those who had survived only to be taken by the island. None of that had registered at the time, since I was coming down off a high from a quick snort in the bathroom, but the details came back to me during the long days and nights on the island.

There was a sign above us that pointed us towards Gates 19 through 29. My family walked that way, Claire keeping her hand on Robert's shoulder, me keeping my hand tightly wrapped around Ally's tiny one. The kids had heard stories about our time on the island, mostly the lighter, happier ones. They knew we were going to meet people from the island, and they seemed to sense the solemnity of the occasion. Normally after a sixteen hour plane ride they would be complaining, whiny, and grouchy, but that day they were unusually complacent.

The gate loomed in front of us faster than I'd expected. Faces loomed at me, familiar and yet unfamiliar. When I saw a young man with short hair and a lovely woman on his arm, I thought he must have been in the wrong place. Then he turned, saw me, and waved, and I realized I was looking at Hurley; older, more slender, but still the same on the inside.

"Charlie! Claire! Yo, guys!" he shouted, which attracted the attention of others who were congregated in the area. He embraced us each and introduced us to his wife as we introduced him to our children. Kate and Jack came next, looking happy and in love. Jack didn't have that haunted look in his eye anymore, and Kate seemed less burdened. I suppose anyone would be less burdened after being declared innocent in a murder trial.

We were pulled into the crowd and found ourselves surrounded by almost everyone who had been on the island with us. Locke was there, and he shook my hand and congratulated me. Whether he was talking about Claire's pregnancy, our marriage, my soberness, or just being alive, I have no idea, but I was touched all the same.

"Claire, just look at you! You haven't changed a bit!" Shannon exclaimed, looking at Claire's stomach. The two women embraced as Claire laughed.

"Yeah, Claire got a bit confused on the directions. See, she thought this was a reenactment, not a reunion, so she wanted to go full out," I said. Everyone laughed, and suddenly the tension that had been making me edgy all day melted away.

Michael and Walt were there, although Walt was hardly recognizable. I had forgotten that children have an odd tendency of growing up too fast, so I really wasn't prepared to meet the twenty-year-old man Walt had become. Bernard and Rose, who had been reunited after a year, were there, as were the others who had been living with Bernard on a different island. Whether on different islands or living in different camps, we had all gone through the same experience. As I greeted these people I would have normally never associated with, I realized something.

We were all saying hello to each other, but really we were there to say goodbye to the island and the shadow it cast upon all our lives. When the reunion was over and we got back on the plane to go home to LA, my heart rate didn't speed up, my palms didn't sweat, and I was able to look out the window and feel nothing but satisfaction as I saw the ocean with the occasional island spread out beneath us.

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End. Reviews will be appreciated, and critiques especially so.