Summary: Charlie takes on the greatest responsibility of his life.
Disclaimer: Lost and all related characters, settings, plots, etc. belong to J.J. Abrams and ABC. I claim no ownership and make no money from this venture.
The tears that traveled down Charlie's face and fell onto his tongue tasted foreign and strange to his taste buds. They were as salty as the ocean but conjured up no images of bright blue waters stretching out to the edges of the horizon or of the waves gently lapping against the shore, washing over his feet, cooling his sunburned body. Instead they conjured up images of pain, of nights spent alone in hotel rooms drunk or high or both. Strongest of all was the image of another's tears rolling down her sweet face.
As the tears continued down his own face, Charlie was aware of a weight in his arms. Through his blurred vision he saw that he was holding something, though since when or why he could not recall. Memories came back to him at a snail's pace and for the most part it was just a jumbled mess of pictures that he could make no sense of. Only one thing remained clear to him, and that was that the thing in his arms had killed her.
It had killed her. It snatched her life away from her, and not gently by any means. Her last moments had been painful, so painful it made her scream, and the screams tore Charlie up inside until the dam he'd built to prevent tears had crashed and a flood came out of him. His lungs contracted so that he couldn't breathe, and when someone shoved this thing in his arms he had just stumbled out of the caves and fell to his knees, clutching the thing to his chest as he sobbed and sobbed and sobbed while she screamed and screamed and screamed.
His tears had calmed since then, and her screams had silenced, probably for all time. Charlie squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard. His throat burned and still more tears squeezed out from between his eyelids. The thing in his arms stirred, and when Charlie's eyes opened he was met with blue eyes that were so like hers it frightened him. Its little fist curled in Charlie's shirt as its head turned towards his chest, seeking warmth or comfort. Charlie heaved a great shuddering breath as his tears fell from his eyes and landed on the thing. It opened his mouth and began to wail, perhaps hungry, perhaps cold, or perhaps already aware of its orphaned state. Charlie clutched it tighter to him.
"It's your bloody fault, you know. It's your fault she's gone. You killed her," Charlie sobbed. It felt good to have a source for his grief, somewhere to lay the blame, even though his heart did not believe the words his mouth spoke. His pursed his lips together and just held onto the thing as it cried and as he cried with it in silence. Desperately Charlie wished that he could take her place and die, because what did he have to live for without her?
"Charlie." He didn't look up, because the voice he heard was not her voice, and no other voice was worth listening to. Her voice brought to mind happiness he had not experienced since before Drive Shaft. Her voice was like his mum's comforting touch or his father's hug, unlike the women he'd met on tour. Their voices only made him think of shagging or of getting a fix.
Charlie was aware of hands trying to disengage his grip on the thing and he pulled away quickly. The voice that was not her voice met his ears again. "Charlie, give me the baby. You don't have to take care of him."
Charlie looked up. His eyes darkened with anger or perhaps fear. Jack, who looked worn out and fatigued and very, very sad, was reaching for the thing –Charlie then realized it was a child– while Kate sat beside him with a clean blanket to wrap him in. In his head, Charlie saw her as she had been only hours before; pale, frightened, and in pain. He had sat with her and stroked her sweating brow as she desperately clung to life. When she realized her efforts were futile, she had looked at him with amazingly calm eyes.
"Please, Charlie… take care of him."
It was the last time Claire ever spoke to Charlie, because right after she said the words Jack rushed in and pushed him aside and set to work trying to save either mother or child. When the baby was born it had been passed off to Charlie just because he was nearby and was not directly involved in saving Claire's life. Charlie had wrapped it in a shirt and carried it outside blindly, his ears not hearing the cries of the baby but only the screams of the mother.
Jack was still trying to take him from Charlie's grasp, even though Charlie had sworn to take care of him. In a voice so weak Charlie didn't recognize it, he whimpered, "No. I promised her. She asked me and I promised her. I have to take care of him."
Jack looked helplessly at Kate. He was exhausted and grief-stricken and had no energy left to deal with an unreasonable Charlie. Kate moved forward and put a hand on Charlie's shoulder. "You don't have to do it alone, Charlie. We can all help you. We need to clean him up and Jack wants to look at him and make sure he's healthy. Then you can hold him again and take care of him. I know Claire would have liked for you to take care of him."
Hearing Claire being spoken of in the past tense felt like a dagger being stabbed through Charlie's already battered heart. He looked at Kate warily with puffy, red eyes that showed only the tiniest glimpse of the pain he felt. "I promised her," he repeated.
"And I promise you, Charlie. We'll all help, but this baby is yours," Kate vowed solemnly. Charlie glanced from her to the baby, then nodded in consent.
"But he needs a name," Charlie realized suddenly. Kate glanced at Jack, biting her bottom lip. Her eyes were asking him a silent question. Jack nodded and she turned back to Charlie, who was staring at the newborn infant with wonder on his face.
"Charlie, before she died, Claire told us she wanted to name the baby Charles."
"Charles," Charlie said, and cried.