Summary: While in Ethan's captivity, Claire gives birth to a stillborn baby. Charlie helps her escape and shows her how beautiful a baby as long as a baby still born it is still perfect even when taken away too soon.
Spoilers through Raised by Another. Sort of.
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.
Claire wondered if this was what dying felt like.
Utter emptiness. Being lost in the darkness, wandering in a void of loneliness, unsure if she would ever wake up and rejoin the real world. Everything was cold and everything was dark and Claire was alone. She knew there was a way back to life. She knew there was a way to live again. She didn't want to find it because she knew what awaited her if she ever returned.
Death. Grief. Evil. Desolation.
She was better off here, in the darkness, where she couldn't feel anything and nothing could touch her except the cold and the lonesomeness.
She recognized the name. The voice was familiar, too. It came to her from very far away and sounded slightly desperate.
"Claire, please open your eyes."
She wanted to because she knew that if she found the person to whom the voice belonged, things might be all right. Then again, if the voice was just a trick, if it was just her mind playing games with her, she might open her eyes and be greeted only with the face of sorrow. So Claire didn't open her eyes. She remained alone in the void and continued to wander, searching for something she would never again see.
"Claire, my sweetheart, you have to open your eyes. I can't be here alone. I need you with me. Please, please wake up. Don't leave me here alone. I promise you, I won't let him get to you again. I promise you, he'll never touch you again. Please, Claire, just wake up and I'll protect you!" The voice was crying now, bitterly, and Claire wondered if he was alone, too, in his own void. Didn't he understand that it was better here? Didn't he know that if he left it he would have to face the truth?
There was a touch, suddenly, on her forehead, brushing away her tangled, sweat-soaked hair. Across her lips, cold and chapped as they were. On her arm, raised in gooseflesh from the chill.
Her eyes opened of their own accord.
"Claire!" Strong arms wrapped around her shoulders and embraced her frail body. "Claire, please, don't scream. Don't be frightened. Shh, Claire, love, don't be so loud, please!"
Claire's screams dissolved into sobs. Her eyes would not close again. She had left the void and was in the world again, and the world was only full of reality that tore through her chest and pierced her heart and made her want to die and stay dead forever, alone and cold and buried.
"Let me go!" She tried to scream but her throat was ragged and sore. It came out as a hoarse whisper. The arms that were holding her only tightened and she was too weak to struggle against them.
"Please, love, let me help you," the soothing voice whispered. Claire hiccupped and coughed and tried to wipe her eyes. Hands were rubbing her shoulder reassuringly, and despite the fear and the uncertainty she felt, it was beginning to relax her.
"Where is he?" she asked. Finally able to see again, she freed one of her arms and brushed her unruly hair out of her face. She was sitting against a stone wall facing the man with the familiar voice. When her mind registered his face she suddenly gasped. "Charlie!"
"Yes, Claire. I've been here with you the whole time." Charlie, dear Charlie with his smooth British accent and his desire to help her and his friendliness, tried to smile at her. His eyes were bloodshot and had dark circles under his eyes. His face was pale and his lips looked chapped. One side of his face looked swollen, puffy, and bruised.
"Oh, Charlie," she murmured, and went boneless in his arms. Exhaustion was overwhelming her, and in sleep she wouldn't have to think about all that had befallen her in the last two days. Charlie rubbed her back and let her lean on him, supporting her just right so that she was as comfortable as she would have been in a queen-sized bed with down pillows.
"It's all right, Claire. I'll be here with you forever. I won't ever leave you. I won't ever let him touch you again," Charlie murmured. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly to ward off the tears threatening to fill up his eyes and bit his lip to keep from making any noise while Claire slowly began to drift off to sleep.
He wished the cot in the corner of the room was still usable. A glance at its condition quickly ruled that out. It was in that bed that Claire had gone into labor, after an injection from Ethan forced her into it prematurely. When her water broke there were no other sheets to replace the soaking ones. With the baby came blood, and then the messy afterbirth. Ethan had not returned since taking the baby away so the sheets remained on the bed, bloody and messy and rancid.
Charlie felt his heart shredding to bits and pieces within his chest when he recalled the sight of Claire, glistening with sweat, naked from the waist down, thrashing about and crying out with pain. Charlie had been unable to help her, no matter how many comforting words he spoke to her or how many times he dried her brow with his own t-shirt. Ethan caught the baby in a blanket and cried out with triumph.
"It worked!" he yelled.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" Claire asked. Despite the conditions her eyes were alight with hope and excitement. While Charlie wondered why the baby had not squalled yet, why it had not taken its first breath of air, Claire strained to glimpse the child in the blanket.
Ethan held it up slowly, revealing what was swaddled in the blanket to Claire and Charlie.
Claire screamed, shocked and terrified.
Charlie gasped in horror.
If Claire had not fainted first, thus prompting him to care for her, he would have ended up on the ground himself. As such, as soon as she collapsed he knelt by the cot and tried to revive her. Not being a doctor he really had no idea what to do, so he just murmured things and rubbed her hand and shook her a little to try to rouse her. His mind could not erase the image of the baby Ethan had displayed to them.
The baby in Ethan's arms was a sickly pale color where it was not stained with crimson blood. Its veins showed through the translucent skin as electric blue. Its little arms and legs dangled uselessly and its head lolled from side to side on its weak little neck. The eyes were closed, the jaw hanging slack to reveal toothless gums and a pink tongue.
Its chest did not move. The baby was not breathing.
No heart beat beneath its little ribcage.
The baby was stillborn.
Ethan laughed, almost maniacally. "It worked. The injection I gave her? It did more than force her into labor."
Charlie's eyes narrowed in anger. He began to realize the extent of this man's psychotics.
"It killed the child."
The bottom of Charlie's stomach dropped to his knees.
"Now I have a specimen to work on. I can use its cells. Its organs are mine to experiment on. I can clone this child. I can create my own race. My own little mutations." Ethan smiled at the baby like a proud father. Charlie's fists clenched by his sides as he rose to full height.
"You. Are. Sick," he said, very slowly. Ethan's gaze rose to meet Charlie's. There was no remorse in them. Instead Charlie saw amusement and thought he might vomit.
"Sick? Is that so, Charlie? Perhaps I'm just ahead of my time. One day you will see. One day you will understand. I am a genius!" he shouted. "Your little mind could not possible comprehend my motives."
"You're right, I can't! I can't understand why you would do such a thing! That child is a bloody human! He had as much right to live on this island as you! After he survived the plane crash, after Claire went through so much, you destroyed him! You're a monster!" Without thinking Charlie lunged for him, fully intending to squeeze his throat until life left him, until he was as still and cold as the baby. Ethan was quicker than he thought and dodged him, aiming a hearty punch to the left side of his face. With Charlie temporarily stopped, he took the opportunity to lift a booted foot and kick him to the floor. His head connected with the concrete floor with a sickening thud and blankness began to edge in on his vision.
"I'll leave you here for now. If she's not dead by nightfall I'll bring you something to eat," Ethan said. The last thing Charlie remembered before blacking out was watching him close the door behind him; the baby propped on his shoulder as if it were alive.
When Charlie woke up and Claire was still unconscious, he panicked. After lifting her off of the cot and redressing her in the pants that had been discarded when the contractions began, he began pleading with her to wake up. Fear gripped him when he recalled Ethan's final words to him.
When she finally woke up, Charlie nearly cried with relief. Then he looked into her eyes and saw the dead, hollow, empty soul that lay beyond them. It was not the time for relief, not yet. Not until he had Claire safely out of this hellish compound and back at the caves where Jack could make her healthy again and Locke could tell Charlie how to help her and Claire could sleep soundly in his arms, away from danger and death and Ethan.
"I'm going to get you out of here, Claire," Charlie murmured against her soft hair. "I'm going to take you home."
Gently easing Claire to the floor, Charlie got up and began to pace around the perimeter of the room. There had to be some way to escape. Some way to get Claire to safety. There were no windows since the compound, the place Ethan had locked Charlie and Claire in, was underground. The only door was heavy and always kept locked. Then Charlie looked at the cot.
The frame was made of wood and it looked to be pretty old. Charlie had noticed when Claire sat upon it how it creaked and groaned under her weight and how it sagged in the middle, as if the wood was weak. Kneeling at the foot of the bed, Charlie gripped one of the square legs. His muscles tensed and he grit his teeth, summoning all the strength his weakened body had to offer.
"Claire," he whispered for strength. All of this was for Claire. To save her, to make sure that she did not die in this concrete jail. If Charlie died while trying to save her, so be it, as long as Claire's path was left open and unobstructed so that she might find safety again.
With one great, mighty pull, the leg snapped off in Charlie's hand. It was not as large a piece as Charlie would have liked, but it was solid and heavy. Perfect for the purposes Charlie had it mind.
The noise of the leg breaking away from the rest of the frame woke Claire. Looking dazed and confused, she sat up and whimpered a little. Charlie rushed to her side, leaving the wooden leg on the ground.
"What are you doing, Charlie?" she asked.
"I'm helping us escape. I'm sorry I woke you, Claire. Are you feeling all right?" Charlie asked.
Claire nodded. He was not convinced. The look on her face was of pure, utter misery, such misery that was not consolable or curable with a simple word or touch. Charlie knew that the only thing that might make her smile again was far, far away, probably smiling down at them from his perch in Heaven amongst the angels.
A nearly silent click coming from the door made Charlie whip around and stare at the door in fear. Claire gripped his arm suddenly and he heard her sharp intake of breath.
Another click. Ethan was turning the key, unlocking the door. Silently Charlie crept to where the wooden leg of the cot lay and gripped it in his hand, his knuckles as white as his face. He was oblivious to the sweat that popped out on his forehead and upper lip and tried to ignore the fear churning in his stomach. Motioning for Claire to go in the corner, Charlie stood and went to stand beside the door so that when it swung open he would be concealed.
It opened. Ethan stepped in. Charlie could hear his breathing and his anger increased tenfold.
"Where's Charlie?" Ethan asked, directing his comment to the figure huddled in the corner of the room.
Charlie stepped out from around the door, his weapon held high above his head. "I hope you go to hell you spineless bastard."
The wooden club was brought down on the top of Ethan's head with crushing force. Before he had time to utter a cry, Ethan was on the floor, knocked out cold. Claire screamed as Charlie stood over him, frozen in place, his chest heaving with breath and adrenaline surging through his veins.
"Charlie! Is he dead?" Claire cried.
Charlie knelt and placed his fingers on Ethan's neck. The pulse was weak but detectable. He shook his head and stood up again.
"Claire, we have to go now." Claire did not question him. For one thing, she was far too weak to argue with him. For another, the deadly serious tone he spoke in left no room for questioning. Claire got up from her crouch in the corner and followed him through the door. Charlie paused only to take the keys that had fallen from Ethan's hand and lock the door behind them, with Ethan's limp form still in the room. Once in the hallway Charlie linked his arm in hers and began to walk cautiously towards the ladder at the end.
There was a door at the top of the ladder that they had come through two days ago when Ethan had first abducted them. It was a trapdoor hidden in the ground on the jungle floor. Ethan had forced them, at gunpoint, down the path, through the wild jungle, to this manmade underground cavern. From the little Charlie had seen it appeared to be a laboratory designed by some rich scientists, judging from the high-tech lab Charlie glimpsed through a glass window in one hallway. Ethan had been the only other person Charlie saw in it, but that did not mean there were no others. He kept as silent as possible as he led Claire, the only thing that mattered on that island anymore, towards their gateway to freedom.
The ladder was in a corner where two hallways intersected. When Claire glanced down the left hallway she gasped and stopped. Her eyes were locked on a gurney sitting halfway down it. On top of it was a blanket, and atop the blanket was the body of an infant.
"Charlie," she whispered, and pointed, and he saw what she was looking at. He gasped and stopped and together they stared at the perfect body of the baby Claire had been meant to raise.
"Please, Charlie," Claire breathed. He looked at her and she said, "Let me take him with us."
"Claire, I know you love him very much, but he's…" Charlie paused.
"I know, Charlie. I'm not stupid." Claire looked angry and Charlie was ashamed. "I want to… to give him a proper burial. I can't stand to think of him lying there forever, or worse, in the hands of people like Ethan, if there are others."
Charlie saw her logic and the pleading in her eyes. He nodded and motioned for her to stay there while he went to the gurney, wrapped the baby in the blanket, and carried him back to his mother. Charlie climbed up the ladder first and gently pushed open the door so that there was about an inch of space for him to look through.
In all directions, all he saw was the surface of the jungle floor. No guards, no other scientists, no monsters, and no polar bears in sight. Charlie climbed halfway back down to take the baby from Claire, then waited for her at the top. After helping Claire to her feet, Charlie and Claire set off blindly in what they hoped was the direction of the caves.
Charlie's first instinct was to protect Claire, so he put his arms around her and kept his body between her and whoever had shouted. When he looked he saw a man with his head and torso coming out of the door in the ground, the one they had just exited barely two minutes ago. He wore a white lab coat and Charlie could see no weapons on him when his entire body was out of the trap door.
Acting on instinct, Charlie screamed, "Run!" and began to sprint as he never had before, with Claire beside him and the baby clutched in his arms.
They were not pursued for long. When the scientist was out of sight and his angry shouts were no longer within hearing range, Charlie paused to give Claire rest. They hit behind the trunk of a large tree, amongst its thick, sprawling, tangled roots and the unruly vegetation. Claire was breathing so hard it frightened Charlie and he wondered if she might need CPR.
"Claire? Claire, can you breathe all right? Do you need some help?" Charlie asked concernedly. Claire shook her head and tried to control her ragged breathing. Charlie simply sat with her and rubbed her back and encouraged her to breathe deeply and slowly, as he'd seen Boone and Jack do for Shannon when her asthma was acting up and Sun needed more time to make her plant remedy.
"I'm all right," Claire said when she had caught her breath. "Just weak is all. Blood loss, I expect. I'm ready now. I can go on."
Claire stood up and began walking, apparently knowing exactly where she was going. Charlie followed half a step behind, still holding the dead baby. The further Claire walked the louder the sound of crashing waves became until they emerged from the jungle onto the shore. Claire did not stop at the water's edge but plunged into the seawater until she was at waist-level. Charlie followed more closely now, thinking of Joanna, the unfortunate woman who had been carried away by a strong riptide.
Claire reached for the baby without speaking. Charlie gave it to her and watched her unwrap it, leaving the blanket open and the baby exposed. Claire began to hum under her breath. Then words took shape and Charlie recognized the lullaby.
"Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket," Claire sang to the unresponsive baby. "Never let it fade away."
Charlie stood back, awestruck by the look of tenderness on Claire's face. As young as she was, and though this baby had only been in the world for a few hours, the bond between mother and child was there and it was strong. Charlie half expected Claire to be able to revive the baby just by the sheer strength of love that was radiating from every pore of her body.
Instead Claire laid the baby on an outgoing wave and watched him float out to sea, swirling on the white crests of the foaming waves. The figure became smaller and smaller until it disappeared altogether, and when that happened Claire turned to Charlie and fell into his arms, sobbing. He held her for a moment before leading her back to shore.
They both sat in the sun-warmed sand as the crimson sun began to sink below the horizon. Claire sniffled and looked at Charlie, the dead look returned to her eyes.
"Why did I get pregnant if the baby was just going to die at the end of it? Why didn't that stupid psychic just tell me to get an abortion?" Claire sniffled again and another tear rolled down her porcelain check. "Why did God let me get pregnant if the baby was just going to be stillborn?"
Charlie hugged her tighter. "Claire, don't you see? The baby was still born."
"Charlie, I don't understand. You're not making sense," Claire said, sounding angrier than she'd meant. She was confused and upset and angry at Ethan and didn't mean to take it out on Charlie, he was just the only target for her output.
"When you looked at your baby, what did you see? I saw a perfect child. Beautiful and perfect. Like a little angel," Charlie whispered.
"He was dead, Charlie. Stillborn. I'll never get to hold him again. Or play with him or look into his eyes or sing to him or read to him or teach him to walk and talk. Charlie, it's not fair!" Claire screamed, beating her fists against his chest as she struggled to get free. She choked on her sobs and tasted salt and tears on her tongue.
"But Claire, he was still born. He was still born and at least you have that. You can always remember your perfect son and know that he never felt pain or suffering. At least you got this miracle, this birth, and you can always remember him as your one perfect son," Charlie murmured into her ear.
Claire looked up into his eyes. Her soul was still empty, yet as Charlie stared into them there was a tiny flicker of life in them. Tears still streamed down her face, but that one flicker gave Charlie hope. It would be a long time before Claire was ever normal again, if such a thing were truly attainable. And Charlie would always be there to help her.
Slowly, Charlie bent his head. His lips against hers felt like sandpaper on silk. She was perfect and he was unworthy but she kissed him anyway, and they both tasted like fire.
"I love you, Claire, and to me you'll always be perfect," Charlie whispered, his breath hot on her skin and his touch searing her skin.
"He was still born, Charlie, and I'm glad you were there with me," Claire said.
They kissed once more, and both thought of the perfect angel floating to Heaven atop a silver-crested wave.