Disclaimed in Part 1

"It said protect," Hurley said, huffing as he struggled to keep up.

Jack halted so quickly the larger man nearly ran into him. "Look, Hurley, I don't care what it said. It doesn't mean anything."

"It doesn't mean anything!" Hurley countered, outraged. "Jack, fifty people just had the same dream, you don't find that a little bit strange?"

"We're all tired and scared after this thing with Charlie and Claire and being exposed to the same stimuli day after day with the same people can trigger-"

Hurley put two beefy hand on either side of Jack's shoulders. "Dude, are you listening to yourself? You think fifty people just had a mass hallucination in their sleep!"

"Charlie said the person that kidnapped him drugged him-" he began.

Hurley stepped back, crossing his arms over his chest. "You are so reaching, man."

"Look, Hurley, I don't have an explanation for everything, all right? But if you're going to tell me a ten foot snake as big as my head had a private conversation with everyone last night-" he broke off, shaking his head. "Things like that just don't happen, Hurley."

He turned away again, heading back down the path towards the beach.

"Hey, dude," Hurley called after him.

"Yeah?" Jack turned again, rubbing eyes sore from lack of sleep.

"What did it say to you?"

Jack pursed his lips. "It said save."

Charlie inched out farther onto the branch, not being terribly fond of heights, and shut his eyes for a moment.

"Charlie, what are you doing?" Sayid called up.

"Just getting my balance."

"Why don't you try doing it with your eyes open?"

Bloody hell, Charlie thought, and opened his eyes. He pulled himself into a crouch on the branch and slowly eased himself up, until he could grab onto the next branch. He closed his eyes again as he hefted his body onto the limb above him, feeling his feet float out into mid-air for one horrible, nausea-bringing moment. "Sayid, I think I'm going to puke."

"Open your eyes and look above the tree line first," the man on the ground replied, all business. "Does anything look familiar?"

Charlie swallowed the bile building in his throat, and pulled himself into a crouch again. He stood shakily, holding onto nearby branches for support. He opened his eyes and looked up.

Don't look down, Charlie, Liam said as they crested the top of the hill. Just close your eyes and put your hands up and scream!

Charlie slowly lowered his eyes so he could look out over the trees. He had told Sayid that he was no good with heights. There was no false machismo at work here. Sayid had made him come up here.

"I will not recognize what I have never seen in the first place," he had argued. "You have a better chance of leading us to Claire."

Not if I get killed, Charlie thought ruefully, shutting his eyes again.

"Charlie, do you see anything?" Sayid demanded.

"I'm looking," he called down, squeezing his eyes together tighter as a breeze drifted over him. It felt like a tundra wind, making the branch quake gently beneath him.

"Open your eyes and look!"

Charlie cursed under his breath and opened his eyes.

"Sayid! I see it!"

Claire had not dreamed since the kidnapping. On top of everything else, it left her feeling restless and unsettled. Her dreams had always comforted her, even when she did not understand them. In the days after the crash, they were a small element of predictability and stability in a rocky world. Whatever happened to her during the day, whatever new crisis the group faced, wherever she slept, whatever she ate, however people treated her, she could count on her dreams to be her constant confusing companion.

Here, in this place, the long, dark periods of unconsciousness got mixed up in the long, dark periods of consciousness, so that she wasn't sure when she was awake and when she was asleep. The result made her doubt if she was still alive.

The baby had been taken from her.

Her hands drifted over her now gently rounded stomach out of habit, as if she could feel what had once been there. It had never been her intention to have a baby, but now that it was gone, she could feel only a terrible ache, as if she was somehow incomplete without it.

The walls of the room she was in were earthen, and she might have been tempted to dig her way out if she hadn't been shackled to whatever was serving as the roof. Even standing tiptoe, she couldn't touch the roof and pulling on the chains that bound her wrists only made her hurt. She was still naked, and she could smell blood on her lower body. Her breasts ached, feeling swollen and tender.

She hummed to herself and wondered how the baby was being fed, if not by her own body. She hoped it was being fed.

He, she thought distractedly. It had been a boy. A beautiful, perfect baby boy.

Gone now.

Was the Frenchwoman taking good care of him? Did she know how to sing "Catch a Falling Star"? Did she know how to take care of an infant? Claire had asked the snake these questions when it came time and again. She never saw how it entered her cell, but when it was there, its body seemed to glow just enough to allow her to see it clearly. She had the feeling that it understood her when she spoke, that it comprehended every thing she said to it, and even empathized, but failed to respond time and again.

Claire told the snake everything. How she'd not intended to get pregnant, how her mother had warned her to never trust or depend on a man for anything because they'd always let you down. She told the snake about the day she met Thomas, about the day he left her with harsh words and broken dreams, just like Mom had predicted.

It listened intently, never judging, just understanding. She told it about the psychic she'd gone to for help and it sympathized and understood and made her feel better by not doing anything at all.

And when her throat was dry and sore, she hummed to herself and the snake, one song getting lost in another.

"What are you humming?" Sayid asked as they plowed through the underbrush.

Charlie shrugged. "I dunno. Bit of this, bit of that. It helps me focus."

"It's driving me to distraction."

The shorter man grimaced at Sayid's back. "Sorry."

Kate hugged her knees to her chest and stared out over the open water from her perch at the top of the sand dune, watching Jack cast a makeshift net into the water time and again and come up empty handed. She felt like that now, searching for fishy answers in a sea filled with whales of questions. What it all meant was a mystery she'd always felt comfortable with. The answer would come to her when she least expected it, someday when she was old and gray and there was no point in worrying about it until then, she felt. Which was why it had been so unsettling She felt a presence behind her and didn't have to turn around to know who it was.

"Why so down in the mouth, Freckles? Did the big snake tell you you weren't pretty?"

"What did it say to you, 'steal'?" she bit back.

Sawyer huffed. "No need to get nasty, Freckles. I was only playing." He cupped a hand over his eyes and saw Jack pull his 'net' up empty-handed again. "I bet Doc Occ out there wishes the snake had told him a Red Lobster was opening up here next week." He cast one eye on Kate, hoping for a smile. Or at least a grimace.

Her face remained schooled. "You don't find it at all strange or disturbing that we all had the same dream?"

"Apparently we didn't have the same dream, sweetheart. That's what's so interesting. All day, that's all I've heard anyone talk about. 'What did it say to you?' 'Did you hear what it said to him?' Like it all means something."

Kate turned and looked up at him, interested. "You don't think it does?"

Sawyer shrugged. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

"What do fifty cigars mean, then?"

He winked and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "That everyone could use a smoke?" He tapped one out and proffered her the pack. She shook her head and stared down at the sand between her knees. Just like a man to change the subject. The same way Jack had that morning when she'd cornered him. Saywer plopped down next to her, and lit his cigarette, puffing gently. "So did the snake encounter really ruffle your feathers or are you just pissed off at all men in general?"

Kate bristled. "It's comments like that that make me pissed off at men in general."

Sawyer chuckled, blowing smoke rings. "Most women want to be fought over. They want to be wooed by heroes and villains alike and flirt with the bad guy and take the good guy home to mom and break hearts when they choose their man. But not you, Freckles."

She shifted, staring at him. "I didn't realize Shannon was most women."

Sawyer nodded his head to indicate where the woman in question lay on the beach, tanning while he brother attempted to tie one of Locke's many knives to a stick to make a fishing spear. "Aww, go easy on Sticks. It's a hard world out there for a woman trying to make it on her own. Besides, she's just doing what she knows." He turned to catch Kate's eyes with his own. "What you know you want to do deep down underneath all that good stuff n fluff you're touting."

"Is that really how you think of women and men? Just using each other to get what they want, never showing compassion or concern for another individual besides what's good for the me right now?" she demanded.

He shook his head. "That's the way of the world, sweetheart. Whoever told you different was lying."

She snorted. "No wonder everyone hates you," she spat. She stood and headed off towards the ocean.

"Kate," he said.

It stopped her dead in her tracks. She turned, crossing her arms over her chest. "What?"

Sawyer puffed on his cigarette again before he answered. "What did it say to you?"

She hesitated for only a moment. "It said Hold on," she paused. "What did it say to you?"

"That's funny," he said, a tiny smile flittering across his lips. "It told me 'Let Go'."

End Part 5