A:N yay! First LOST fic! Sappy, of course! Don't own lost, otherwise this wouldn't be just a fanfic. . .it would be the destiny of the show. Anyways, wrote this to take my mind off the possibility of Claire dying. . .I really don't believe they'll kill her. . .crosses fingers. . .that would be SO unfair. ..okay, so I haven't been watching this show all that long, only since "the house of the rising sun", so don't yell at me if the characterizations are horrible. I do apologize most deeply. . .anyways. . . on with the show!

PROLOUGE:
Here at last was the thing they had all been craving: civilization, electricity, even busy, angry people. Those were the comforts they had lost, stranded nearly two and a half years ago on that godforsaken spit of land (A/n: couldn't resist).

The rescue ship came 2 months ago, and happiness surrounded the survivors a great power that they had never felt before, and yet. . .there was an oddly tragic feel to the whole affair. They would leave the island they had grown to understand, despite its quirks. They had grown up over the past few years, and learned sometimes life is worth living if only for the simply pleasure a sunset could bring. They hadn't changed the island. The island had changed them.

And what of the bonds they had formed with each other, the bonds that were deeper than friendship? Would they be destroyed? For surely now they would go their separate ways, though Jack and Kate had already made plans to stay together, and what then? A card at Christmas time, a phone call once and a while to reminisce? After all the hardships they had gone through together, from Walt's tragic death to Sawyers unavoidable suicide (A/N: I have nothing against Walt, btw. Sawyer, on the other hand. . .), to the madness of Danielle (who had remained on the island, not knowing any other way), after all that, how could cards be enough?

The ship brought them to a small town on the coast of America; from there, they caught a plane to L.A. Few among them now remembered that was where the doomed flight from Australia was headed. And now they had landed, and were officially excused from customs (who felt sure all of their passports would be out of date). Family and friends awaited long lost loved ones on the crowded side of a red rope, and they slowly paced down the created path to greet them, trying to look brave and tough. Most felt like crying.

Perhaps the great tragedy of the crash had not been so tragic after all. . .

II ) CLAIRE (And child)

The small boy ran ahead of his mother down the aisle, though he didn't know where he was running to. She smiled. 'Let him explore everything', she figured, 'it's the last time he'll see this world for the first time.' He was now staring up at a t.v. screen that announced the departures and arrivals, enthralled. Knowing he would be safe with all of the others to catch him if he ran off, she scanned the crowds.

Her parents were there, looking about ready to forgive anything she had ever done. Her mother was crying, and her father's protective arm was around her. Suddenly she remembered the horrible day Ethan had taken them away, when Charlie's arm found a similar place on her shoulder. She almost hadn't survived the ordeal, for while Charlie had been left behind by their captor, she had been taken to Danielle's huts for several days, drugged and bound in thick rope. At last, though, they had found her, in pain of labour. Lucky Jack had been there, or she would surely have died (gone to the great island in the sky). Lucky Charlie cared enough to press on with the search, when everyone else thought it was hopeless.

"Estel, come to mummy, sweetheart," she called, wanting the precious two year old to at last meet his grandparents. His small hand, made smaller by the conditions he had suffered all his little life, grasped hers, and they entered the crowds together.

"Mommy," he said curiously, and she feared an endless round of questions would follow. Estel spoke notoriously well for someone so young, and his favorite word at the moment seemed to be "why?"

"What?"

"Why'd we leave home?" The simplicity and innocence of his question stunned her. She hadn't really thought of it before, but the island was the only home the two year old had known. The only family he had were the survivors who had cared for him, and watched him grow. Jack was his only paediatrician, Locke was his only teacher. And Charlie, well, the "rock god" might as well have been the kid's father. For one blissful moment, she forgot that he wasn't.

She was so caught up in thought that she didn't see the man in front of her, and walked right into him. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said automatically, before she recognized him. "You. . ."

The psychic's eyes were chillingly grey, as was his voice when he spoke. "Me. I forgot to mention something."

"What was that, then? That the plane would crash? That I'd be stranded on a remote island for over two years, nearly dying in captivity and childbirth?"

"Captivity? I didn't foresee that."

"Then what?"

His voice went chill and dark, almost like a shadow whispering to her of half forgotten dreams. "You must let him raise your child with you."

"Who? Thomas?"

"No! Never let that man into your life again!" She was about to ask him who he had meant, then, but she looked up and he was gone. Damned psychic. She turned away from him and made for her parents. Estel said nothing, and it seemed he had forgotten his question, for the moment.

"Claire!" her mother was yelling, and sobbing horribly. "We thought we'd lost you for sure! Oh, but I felt horrible for all I had ever done to you!" She embraced her daughter warmly, not noticing or pretending not to notice the little child beside her.

"Oh, mum, I missed you too! I'm sorry I was ever angry at you, I didn't realise-"

"Mommy, who's that?" asked Estel, tugging at her pant leg. She turned to him, smiling sweetly.

"This is my mummy, sweetheart."

"You have a mommy?" His piercing blue-grey eyes were wide with amazement.

"Of course," she said, surprised. "Everyone does."

"Did Jack?"

"Yes, of course." It pained her to hear him speak of Jack in the past tense, as though he no longer existed.

"And Shannon? And Kate?"

"Yes, sweetheart."

"Mommy, what about Charlie? Did he have a mommy?" If it had been hard to hear Jack's name referred to in the past tense, it nearly killed her to hear Charlie's name spoken so. If there was anyone she wanted to stay in contact with, it was him. She didn't actually think she could survive without him.

"Maybe one day you can ask him yourself," she replied, hoping beyond hope that the small child would get that change.

"Ok. And what about-"

She caught Sayid's arm as he walked past, and whispered something in his ear. He bent down to make himself eye level with Estel.

"Did you know that everyone had a mother where I came from?" he asked patiently.

"Really?" Estel's eyes were wider than before, if that was possible.

"Oh yes. Without mothers, there would be no children."

"Oh. OK! Bye-bye, Sayid!" He waved in the way that only a small child can, and Sayid stood, hugged Claire, and left.

"Who was that?" asked Claire's mother curiously.

"Sayid. He helped to fix the transmission, and brought the ship to us."

"That was good of him," she said, disinterested. "And who'd this?" She bent down just as Sayid had done, though her bones were more brittle, and she could not get quite so close to the ground.

"My son. Estel."

"Estel!" said her father, who had tried to avoid the heartfelt reunions. "What kind of name is that for a boy? Where did you think of it, Claire?"

Flashback.

Charlie walked into the caves, nervously wringing his hands. He hadn't seen Claire since they found her, and delivered the child. She had been too weak to see anyone, and for a while they thought the pain and fever would do her in.

"Claire, love?" he asked, as though he wasn't sure she was there.

"Hello Charlie," she replied, sounding glad to see him. He sat next to her and looked at the baby, playing with his tiny hands.

"Have you thought of a name yet?"

"No. I never was any god at names."

"Me neither."

They sat in silence for long moments, for no words were needed between the friends. It killed Charlie to remember that this wasn't picture perfect: they were in a cave, not a bedroom, and the little boy wasn't his own child. 'We're just friends' he reminded himself, but it did no good.

"I read a book once," he started suddenly.

"Did you?"

"Well, no, actually. My br-my brother read it to me, and it was abridged anyways."

"Ah."

"There was this character, a teeny tiny little character, not important at all, called Estel. Well, that was one of his names; I think he was actually Ar-gon or something." She smiled at him; knowing the way Charlie described things, he was probably the hero of the whole story.

"What's your point?"

"I think that's what you should name him."

"What. Estel? Kind of girly, isn't it?"

"No. Well, yes. That's not the point. The name meant Hope, I remember that, and I think we could all use a little of that around here."

"Hope?"

"Yeah."

She couldn't agree more.

END FLASHBACK

"Charlie named him," she said, not wanting to go into detail.

"Who's Charlie?"

"A. .. friend," and it was harder than ever to force out the word friend. She spotted him then, alone, staring up at a shop just beyond the gateway. "Yes. . .a friend."

III ) CHARLIE

'How do they fit so many bloody shops into an airport?' he wondered, because it was the only thing he could wonder about that didn't hurt him. He couldn't think about finding work, or settling down, or speaking to Liam (who wasn't at the airport) or. . .Claire. It was hardest of all to draw his mind away from her, and yet, she was the most painful thing he could think about. How could he never see her again? How could he stand that?

He hadn't been surprised when nobody was there to greet him at the airport. Liam cared nothing for his little brother; to him, he was just an out-of-date rock star who constantly needed a fix and had no purpose in life. Well, he'd show him, then! Off the drugs, permanently, he hoped, the ex-rock God now had something going for him.

He told himself that story, over and over, until all other pain was driven from his mind. The truth was, he missed Liam, even though everything that had happened was his fault. 'If it wasn't for him, I'd've stayed clean, and Catholic, and I wouldn't have tried to get back into the rock scene, and I wouldn't have been on the plane, and. . .' there was that empty longing again, 'I'd never have met Claire . . .'

'Think of the shops, think of the shops. . .Christ, they've got everything. . .souvenir shops, clothing shops, a jewellery shop. . .they've even got a bloody grocery store!'

"Charlie!" someone called, someone familiar.

"Locke, hey, I was wondering where you'd got to," he said, turning to greet the man who had become sort of a role-model to him.

"People want to talk to me. Unfortunately. I just wanted to make sure you were alright,"

"Huh? Yeah, sure, I'm fine," he said distractedly. He had spotted the Australian beauty who had haunted his dreams for what seemed like forever. She was speaking with two older people, presumably her parents. He longed to go over to her, to hold her and announce to her parents that he loved her, but he knew he couldn't. 'I don't deserve her anyway. And Estel, he deserves a better father figure.'

"Are you? Listen Charlie, I just want to make sure you stay clean, ok? If you ever need help, you know where to find me," said Locke, before it dawned on him that no, Charlie wouldn't know where he'd be. The layout of the island was all too familiar to him, and he almost considered his glade his 'home.' "Sorry, of course you won't. Here's my cell phone number, okay?" Locke handed him a small square of paper, and noticed the torn look in his friend's eye.

"Do you love her?" he asked. Locke had never been one for subtlety.

"What?" Charlie was suddenly brought back to the present, though he had been wandering daydreams and missed the question.

"Do you love Claire?"

"Well, I. . .it's. . ." he stumbled, feeling heat rising in his cheeks.

"Charlie. Answer me." Locke's eyes seemed suddenly stern and dark. Charlie sighed, knowing there was no use denying it.

"Yes."

"Then do something about it-"

"I can't, she doesn't deserve me!" interrupted Charlie.

"Do something about it," repeated Locke, ignoring Charlie's comment, "Or you'll lose her. She needs you too, Charlie. Estel needs you."

Locke walked off, as he often did, leaving Charlie to contemplate his words. Finally, he knew what he had to do. But there were two shops he needed to visit first. Thank heavens he had been given his bank card!

IV) PEANUT BUTTER". . .so then Jack found the caves, but I didn't want to move up to them, because at that time I still thought the rescue ship would come soon. . ." Claire was saying half-heartedly. She had lost sight of Charlie nearly half an hour ago, and now she was afraid she wouldn't get to even say goodbye. Her father was holding the sleeping Estel in his arms, listening intently to his daughter's every word. ". . .and finally Charlie convinced me that it was better for me to be near to Jack. . ."

"You seem to talk an awful lot about this Charlie," commented her mother. Her cheeks felt like they were on fire.

"I told you, he's a good friend,"

"Do we get to meet him?" asked her father softly, trying not to wake the boy.

"I don't know. . .I haven't seen him around for a while. . ." but just then, she did see him, searching the crowds for someone. For her, maybe? She pushed the thought out of her mind, for dreaming even for a second would surely only make saying goodbye harder, when the time came. She pressed on with her story, trying to forget Charlie's searching gaze.

". . .then one night, I had a nightmare about. . .well, that's not important, and the next night I felt someone trying to kill my child (this was before he was born). Nobody believed me though, except. . ." she broke off. He had been looking for her! Now her favourite castaway was making a beeline for where she was standing. Her heart rose in her throat, and she dared to hope.

"Claire? Except for who?" asked her mother gently. Charlie reached them then, and stepped around her parents.

"Claire? Can I talk to you a minute?"

"Sure, Charlie, what is it?"

"In private. . ." he said, and with a smile and a nod to her startled parents, he led her off to an unoccupied nook across from the bookshop.

"I got you a present," he said softly, and that mischievous grin she loved so much was back. She tilted her head sideways, wondering what this mysterious gift could be. He pulled a jar from a paper bag, and in the jar was. . .

"Remember this?" he asked cheerfully.

"Peanut butter! You remembered!"

"How could I forget?" That impish expression had sustained her through bad times and good, and she realised she simply could not live without it. "It's thicker, this time. . .not as smooth, though. Here, have some!" he handed her the glass jar, which she took, looking amused and yet. . .suspicious. . ."What?"

"Last time you got me "peanut butter", you wanted me to move to the caves. What do you want this time?"

"Nothing!" he said, defensive yet cheerful. "Claire, I am offended that you would ever suggest such a thing!"

"Oh. . .ok. . .good." She went on enjoying her peanut butter.

"Actually. . ."

"I knew it!"

"It's nothing, really! Just a question. A teeny, tiny, little question, not important at all. You don't even have to answer it if you don't want to! Just let me ask."

"Alright, Charlie, I was going to let you anyway." It was really good peanut butter. And besides, how could she resist that smile?

"Ok. . ." he said, but then he went silent. He was shaking worse than he ever had; even when he went through withdrawal, it was easier to stay perfectly still.

"Charlie? What is it?" she prompted, curiosity driving her insane. He was silent for another minute, but the shaking lessened visibly, and then, he pulled something else out of the paper bag. It was a small wooden box, the kind they put rings in. . .

"Claire. . .I know this is sudden, but I have to. . .I can't live without you. . ." why was it so bloody hard for him to gather his thoughts? "I love you. . .Claire. . .will you marry me?"

She gasped sharply. Even when she had seen the box, even when he was shaking so violently, she had ruled out every possibility that dreams could come true. She never believed it was possible to catch stars.

"Oh, Charlie," she said, and felt warm tears streaming down her cheeks. He opened his eyes, that had been firmly shut before.

"It's okay. You can say no if you want. I just thought I'd better ask. . ."

"No?! I don't think I could say that if I wanted to. . ."

Charlie looked up at her suddenly, eyes shining with hope.

"Then. . .if you don't want to say no. . .that leaves. . ."

"Yes," she finished, "yes." She had intended to say more, but found that she was too overcome with emotion to even think the words. He smiled again, but this time, his smile was less mischievous and more. . .positively ecstatic. He brushed her lips with his gently, thankful that Locke had been there to point him in the right direction. Why hadn't he done this 2 years ago?

Finally, she could speak again. "Just a "teeny tiny" question?"

"I didn't think it was that big, considering what we've been though. . ."

"Not important?"

"Well. . .maybe important." He leaned in to kiss her again (god! How he had longed to do that!) and spotted his wise friend watching the two from the shop next to the book shop. It was the grocery store, the first of the two places he had visited.

And Locke was leaning against a stack of peanut-butter jars.

A/N: Bad ending, I KNOW! Forgive and forget! No flames, please! Flames are anti-helpful. Constructive criticism isn't bad, but be gentle. And in case you couldn't tell, I'm a Claire/Charlie shipper. . .and I LIKE Locke. . .not like that. . .but lost of people seem to be all anti-Locke for some reason. . .why?