Disclaimer: Not mine! Really. I wish they were!
SUMMARY: Home is where the heart is.
RATING: PG-13/R (sexual situations)
PAIRING: Charlie/Claire, of course!
I'm not entirely sure where the idea for this story came from. The first line came into my head one day while I was doing something -- probably banging my head on the desk at work -- and it wouldn't go away. So I came home and typed it… and then typed the next line… and then the next… and this is the end result. It's primarily an introspective piece, from Claire's perspective, but it follows a loose chronological plot. It has a tendency to wander, and at times it's unapologetically fluffy, but I hope you enjoy nonetheless. Please review if you do!
THREE WEEKS (AFTER LABOR):
When they sleep together, they spoon. It's easiest for all of them -- Charlie behind, Claire in the middle, and the baby cradled in the crook of her arm between her body and the cave wall. Claire likes the feeling of Charlie's knees tucked behind hers, his fingers interlaced with her own against her stomach. It feels good; normal. The only clue to the abnormality of the situation is that they sleep on old clothes in a damp cave in the middle of a screaming jungle on a deserted island. But even that is only one perspective; to the little boy in her arms, this IS normal.
Kate is beginning to pester her about a name. Hurley's been giving her grief for a week. Even Jack has begun to join in the teasing, suggesting she name him Boy.
"Reckon that'd make me Tarzan and you Jane," Charlie had teased when she told him the story.
"Does that mean I get to see you in a loin cloth?" she'd countered with a grin, while the baby sucked on her pinkie.
"Only if I get to see you in less."
"Like just a loin."
"How about a cloth?"
"No, I really think I'd just prefer to see your loin."
"I don't think there's a singular form of loin, Charlie, unless you're talking about pork."
"Then we'll make it a twofer, shall we?"
A hopeless romantic, was her Charlie.
His hand was still tender from her frantic squeezing during the labor three weeks ago. Despite all of Jack's reassurances to the contrary, Charlie was still convinced she'd broken at least one of his fingers. "You've wounded my phalanges," he'd whine, flexing his fingers in front of her face with a pathetic pout. "Just look at that. They'll never properly phalange again."
And Claire would laugh and snatch his hand out of the air, bringing it to her lips for a kiss. "They seem to be working fine to me," she'd tease, running his knuckles across her cheek.
"They're behaving because they like you," he'd whisper, and lean in…
His whiskers were rough and tickly. She'd never liked kissing men with beards, but for one reason or another, she didn't mind it with Charlie. The scratchy bristles against her cheeks made him more real somehow -- less likely to fade like some exanimate dream. Then there were his lips to contend with. Charlie had excellent lips, and he KNEW how to kiss. A jealous region of her brain wanted to grill him on just HOW many girls he'd kissed -- not to mention done other things to -- in his life. It was thankfully quelled by the more practical areas of her brain, which reminded her that however many girls he'd had before, the options were thin on the ground here. There was little chance of him dropping her for the next pretty thing in a short skirt to waltz down the convenience store checkout line.
Of course, that didn't mean she wasn't secretly thrilled that Shannon had stayed with the contingent of survivors who chose to remain on the beach.
Claire liked to call it her "Preter-Maternal" response; she was Super Mom. This was her man, and her baby, and together, they composed her family group. Anything that threatened the sanctity of that group was immediately suspect. It surprised her, how quickly she had regressed to such a Stone Age mode of thinking. Not that she was about to club anyone over the head with a rock for looking crosswise at her, but she found herself becoming very protective of Charlie and the baby. The thing which really flipped her lid was that she KNEW Charlie felt the same about the baby and HER. So there was a whole lot of protecting going on, without a word being said about it, and absolutely no outside forces -- at the moment -- from which either of them NEEDED protection.
Except the big, invisible monster in the forest. But that went without saying.
Claire loved watching Charlie play with the baby. Sometimes she loved watching him even more than she enjoyed playing with the little one herself. Charlie was so gentle; it made her wonder if he'd had any experience with children before getting saddled with her and her little bundle of joy. She wondered why she'd never asked him; why she didn't ask him the first time it came to mind; why she wasn't asking him now. Perhaps she didn't want to learn that he'd become a father at the age of sixteen with some doe-eyed girl in his chemistry class who'd made flirty jokes about how chemistry was more than just protons and electrons, and oooh, didn't he just have the most gorgeous eyes?
There it was again. The world had turned a subtle shade of green.
Charlie had never asked her about the baby's father. She was certain there were times he'd wanted to; had seen him open his mouth to ask, only to think better of it and stay silent. Claire could have told him there was no need, it wasn't any big secret, she'd had a boyfriend and they'd had sex, and that was that. But Charlie seemed to think it wasn't something she'd want to talk about. Oddly enough, after thinking about it for a while, Claire realized she DIDN'T want to talk about it. Not because it caused any painful memories, but because it conjured ghosts she preferred to bury. They were so happy here, the three of them. She didn't WANT to bring up the specter of Thomas and his grass-stained soccer knees; or her mother's scowl of withering disapproval; or her father's look of broken disappointment. On this island, none of that mattered. On this island, it was who you were RIGHT NOW that was important, not the person you'd been. She wasn't her father's little angel anymore, or her mother's perfect princess. She was her baby's mother, and Charlie's "Angel" (as he liked to call her, in the most ridiculous and adorable pun she'd ever heard). Those were the things that mattered; those were the things people saw. Let the past stay in the past -- she had her eyes firmly fixed on the future.
Strangely enough, when she looked into that murky distance, she didn't see herself in a little cottage with a white picket fence. She saw herself here, with Charlie, and the baby grown to be a young man.
This island was becoming her home. And far from scaring her, Claire found she'd never felt more at peace.
The matter of sex was inevitable. Sooner or later, they were going to cave in, and then what were they going to do? There was probably a box or two of condoms kicking around in the morass of luggage that had survived the crash; but even if she found some, they would only last so long. That being if Sawyer hadn't found them already and hidden them away in his secret treasure stash.
They could have sex WITHOUT protection, but did she really want to be pregnant again? So SOON? Without a doubt, that was what would happen.
Charlie hadn't broached the topic yet, but she knew it was on his mind. She knew because anatomy doesn't lie, and when he slept behind her, she felt everything his anatomy was thinking. Those were the nights she tried not to move too much, because she didn't want to make it worse for him. And because, on an entirely selfish note, she liked making him feel that way. It lit fires in her belly that she hadn't felt in months. Which in turn made her think even harder about the sex issue, because those fires kept rekindling night after night, but come morning, they didn't die out. They kept smoldering -- new embers building on the previous day's coals -- and soon they would set her hopelessly ablaze.
So she let him touch her now.
Just little moments of skin on skin -- a brush of his palm across her belly, above the waist of her pajamas; his thumb across the swell of her breast, hand tucked up under her shirt; his calloused fingertips stroking her hip like fine bone china. When she'd been pregnant he'd restricted his caresses to platonic touches on her stomach, her face, her hands. For the days immediately following the birth, when she'd felt worn out and utterly spent, he'd cuddled up behind her, wrapped her in his arms, and held her and the baby in a protective embrace. Claire was thankful for that; her body was still getting used to functioning for itself and her newborn, without having to switch gears and operate for a third person. Just the thought was exhausting.
But it had been five weeks, and time moved slow on this island, which made it feel even longer. They'd been virtually inseparable for almost three months. He smelled like rain and campfire smoke, which were becoming her blueprint for what home should smell like. And there was no doubt in her mind that he loved her. With Thomas, she had always thought it was love, but she realized now it had never been a certainty. With Charlie, all she had to do was look into his eyes to know what he was feeling. He wore his emotions like a bright yellow raincoat -- absolutely unmistakable.
The fact that she loved him madly was really only secondary.
FIVE AND A HALF WEEKS:
Claire decided to name the baby Charlie, Jr, because some things are more important than blood.
Charlie stands guard when she nurses CJ -- his nickname for Charlie, Jr. It's the protective impulse again. Claire sits facing the wall, cooing soft words of encouragement to the baby in her arms, while Charlie sits between her and the rest of the cavern and watches for Peeping Toms. No one here would do that, of course, but it makes Charlie feel better, so Claire doesn't protest.
She likes it best, though, when he sits right behind her, chin on her shoulder, and watches her nurse her son. It's been a long time since she's felt that level of trust; not since Thomas walked out with a smile and an empty promise to always be there if she needed him. The irony isn't lost on her that the straight-laced athlete with the scholarship abandoned her, while the druggie drop-out with black-lacquered nails and shaggy hair has been her most devoted companion. There's something cliched about the arrangement -- it smacks of Grease, right down to the leading lady being a blonde Australian. But she'll take it, if it means she gets to have a happy ending.
Charlie teases her, because she hums "We Go Together" in her sleep.
Jack and Hurley built the most amazing cradle for CJ -- wood and bamboo, lined with chemises and padded with stuffing ripped from seats that hadn't survived the crash. To Claire, it was the most beautiful cradle she'd ever seen, because she knew the time and effort they'd put into it. It was solid and sturdy, and so comfortable that CJ didn't seem to miss his mother's arms when he slept. He still woke up and fussed during the night, like any average newborn, but when he slept, he SLEPT.
For her first night in bed alone with Charlie, Claire pulled out all the stops. It was difficult to decorate what was essentially a nook in a warren of interconnected caves, but she tried her hardest. It was very important to her to establish the area around their "bedroom" as theirs, and only theirs. She arranged palm fronds against the wall in what she thought was an artistic and glamorous way. She swept as much grit and sand off the rippled stone floor as she could, and restuffed their makeshift blanket-mattress with fresh palm leaves and grass. She even went so far as to drape a precious piece of plastic tarp -- they were each rationed a reasonable section to use for privacy -- across the mouth of their nook as a doorway. It was a mystery, even to herself, why she hadn't done so earlier. Perhaps the introduction of the cradle gave their location more permanency, whereas before it had felt so transient. Now, when she pulled the plastic curtain and settled down on the mattress, with CJ's quiet breathing coming from the cradle against the cave wall, she felt at home. Blue plastic was apparently the new picket fence.
"What's all this then?" Charlie asked, as he ducked beneath the curtain early that evening, crouching low and letting his eyes sweep around the newly "decorated" alcove. "Been busy, I see."
"Just settling in a bit." Locke had made them all beeswax candles, in his strange and arcane way, and one was burning warmly on a ledge behind her, lighting the recess with a soft golden glow. Claire couldn't keep herself from blushing. "What do you think?"
"I think Home and Garden would be proud," he said, winking at her and crawling into the niche. The first place he went was the cradle, to check on the baby and grin like a proud father. Then he turned back to her. "Why?"
She sighed. How could she explain? It didn't make much sense, even to her. "It felt like the time to do it," she said, and shrugged at the ambiguity of the answer. "CJ has his own little bed now. It felt like the time to… grow up a little."
Charlie grinned at that, and crawled across the brief distance between them to nuzzle her nose with his own. "You're a good mum, Claire," he murmured against her lips.
"What makes you say that?" she asked, drinking in his breath.
"Because the best mum's can make anyplace feel like home."
"Does it really?" The hope in Claire's voice surprised even her.
All he did was smile and kiss her. He smelled like rain and campfire smoke, with a background of subtle honey from the candle above them, and she knew they were home.
SEVEN AND A HALF WEEKS:
Perhaps she was feeling lonely, without CJ in her arms. Perhaps the added privacy of the curtain between them and the rest of the cavern made her bold. Perhaps it had just been long enough. Whatever the reason, one night she felt Charlie's fingers dip under the waistband of her loose pajama pants, and she didn't stop him. Every nerve ending in her body was screaming at her to move, to react, but all she could do was shiver with pleasure as his hand slid further in, his other arm curling around her waist from underneath and pulling her back against his chest.
"Claire…?" he whispered in her ear, his hand stilling on her lower belly.
"I know," she whispered back, and laid a hand on his forearm. Gently -- but without hesitation -- she urged his hand downward. "It's all right…"
His embrace tightened, and she felt his body tense as his fingers slipped down the front of her panties.
She sighed and arched her back as he touched her. It had been almost a year since anyone had done this with her. How could she have forgotten what it felt like?
"You're so bloody beautiful," he rasped in her ear as she whimpered softly, her hips moving slowly with his fingers. "Everything you do is beautiful. I am so lucky. You've made me the luckiest man in the whole bloody universe…"
Claire swallowed a groan, arching her back and scrubbing her head against his neck as she felt all the weeks of collected embers suddenly flare to life in her belly. This was right; this felt GOOD; this was how it was supposed to be. Her heels sought purchase on the mattress and his legs as her fingers clutched blindly behind her, grabbing his thigh and holding it in a vicelike grip. It was getting harder to breathe. She was trying not to gasp, trying not to let on what was happening here behind their flimsy partition, trying not to wake CJ, but she needed to BREATHE…
"Oh, God, please," Charlie half begged in her ear, his breathing harsh against the back of her neck. "Please, love…"
She couldn't say no to him.
Biting down so hard on her lip she tasted blood, Claire felt her hips jerk forward, felt the familiar warm explosion of pleasure that worked out from her pelvis until it tingled in her toes and made her vision swim. Charlie's arm clutched her around the waist as his fingers dug into her hip, while his other hand came slowly to a stop. She lay twitching and panting spasmodically in his arms, her body going limp, arm swinging forward to stretch out across the cave floor, fingers flexing faintly against the stone.
Minutes later, when she could speak without gasping, she murmured, "Thank you…"
It was an unexpected response, and for a minute, Claire didn't know what to say. Finally, with a little groan as the movement made his hand fall away, she turned onto her back and stared into his eyes; onyx and blue in the faint light that filtered into the alcove over their plastic wall. She felt a hot, pulsing hardness against her thigh through his boxers, and wondered how he could hold onto his impulses when he'd just shattered hers.
"Of course I will," she whispered, and touched his cheek. "You know I will."
The smile he gave her almost made her come again.
"I don't have a ring to give you."
"I don't need one."
"We don't have a priest."
"We'll think of something."
"Are you sure?"
"I love you, Charlie."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Charlie." She smiled and kissed his nose. "It happens."
His voice was husky when he answered. "Not to me."
Claire gazed into his face, taking in the features she'd come to know so well. The nose that was a little stubby, a little wide. The mouth that was soft and pink, surrounded by the manly scruff of his beard. The shaggy mane of his hair, which she'd tried to trim with one of Locke's knives and had ended up butchering horribly instead. The bottle-blonde highlights had faded long ago, leaving him with his natural chestnut brown. But his eyes were where her attention focused; his blue-green, fractured eyes. He had seen a lot of pain through those broken eyes. It showed in the way he looked at her, as if ready for her to cringe away and say she'd changed her mind.
Instead, she laid a hand on his shoulder and turned him onto his back, letting the momentum carry her over until she was laying on top of him, nose to nose, chins touching as she stared into his eyes. "I don't love just anybody, Charlie," she murmured. "And I don't say yes to something unless I mean it."
He was very still for a moment, then tentatively puckered up his lips and kissed her, his tongue swiping away the droplet of blood that had formed on her lower lip. Claire giggled and kissed him back, harder. Charlie wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her tightly and kissing her HARDER.
Claire slid a hand down between them and touched the hot bulge that pressed against her stomach, and Charlie moaned. "Claire…" he groaned against her lips. "Don't do that."
"I can't bloody stand it, that's why."
"Really?" Pulling back, she grinned down at him, and began slowly creeping down his body, keeping her eyes locked with his.
Charlie's eyes crunkled in confusion. "Claire? What are…?" Now his eyes widened. "You're not -"
"Yes I am."
"Claire, you don't have -"
"What did I just say about when I say yes?" Pausing at his stomach, she pushed up his t-shirt and nuzzled his navel. A shiver of restraint rippled through his muscles, and she heard him suck in a breath.
"I love you," she whispered across his stomach.
He didn't say a word. His hand brushed her cheek, and she knew he loved her by the fact that his fingers said L-O-V-E.
EIGHT AND A HALF WEEKS
The next time she said yes, the ceremony was small. It wasn't even really a ceremony; more a gathering of friends on the beach in the sun. Locke conducted the service, because he knew how; Locke knew everything. Jack gave away the bride, and Hurley stood with the groom. Sun held CJ, and Walt played ringbearer while Vincent wagged his tail. Kate stood next to Claire, flowers in her hair, and couldn't stop smiling
Claire wore a borrowed white dress and a wreath of new white lilies on her head. There was no concept of old on this island -- everything had been reborn from the ashes of the crash -- but she wore a locket that Sawyer said he'd found in the handbag of a seventy-year old woman. And when Charlie said I do, he sealed the promise with a sapphire ring.
Shannon caught the bouquet, and for a moment, looked utterly, hopelessly lost.
It was hard to hold a reception on a desert island, but they managed. Sun had quite a lovely voice, and she sang haunting songs in her beautiful language while Charlie and Claire danced barefoot on the sand. To eat, there was sushi and crab, clear water and coconut milk, and -- of course -- boar meat. Claire couldn't remember ever feeling so happy in all her life.
As the sun began to sink low on the horizon, and the camps split once more for the night, Sawyer stopped Charlie and Claire at the edge of the jungle, and pressed three foil packets into Charlie's hand. "Think of them as a little wedding present," he said with a wink. "First three free."
Claire blushed and quickly took the condoms from Charlie, tucking them into his pocket. "Thank you, Sawyer," she said, embarrassed but thankful.
"Least I could do for Beauty and the Beastie Boy," the southerner said with a wicked grin before turning away and sauntering back towards the beach camp.
"You should have thanked him," Claire said, watching Sawyer go and poking Charlie playfully in the ribs.
"Sorry, what?" he responded dazedly, looking down into her eyes. "I was a little distracted."
"By trying to think of all the ways to use Sawyer's gift."
Claire laughed, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "You're incorrigible, Charlie," she purred against his mouth.
"Whatever you say, Angel."
"Did I ever tell you how corny that was, Mr. Pace?"
"Innumerable times, Mrs. Pace."
"Did I ever tell you how much I love the sound of that, Mr. Pace?"
"Not until just now, Mrs. Pace."
"Mrs. Pace. Mrs. Claire Pace. Mrs. C. Pace. If we had monogrammed bathrobes, we could swap and no one would know the difference."
"Except for the Mrs., luv."
"We could say it was Mr with a misprint."
Charlie laughed and swooped her off her feet. "Why are we standing here," he asked, walking with her into the jungle, back towards the caves, "when I've got three bits of foil burning a hole in my pocket?"
Claire rested her head on his shoulder and whispered while he walked, telling him all the different ways she would make Sawyer's gift last a long, long time.
Sun took CJ for the night, and the newlyweds took up residence for one night only in the farthest nook from the rest of the camp, deep in the maze of caves. He unzipped her dress, she untied his shoes. The candles burned, melted to puddles, then went out.
Charlie and Claire outlasted them by a mile.