Title: Of Nursery Rhymes and Christmas Trees
Summary: Claire has always hated Christmas.
Spoilers: None really. I guess up to "Confidence Man". Then I took it off on my own merry little timeline of Christmas cheer. Can't have no Claire in a Claire-centric Christmas fic!
Disclaimer: Not mine, darlings! I wish it was. Then I'd be rich, I tell you! Rich!
Dedication: To literarylemming for her prodding. :)
Claire had always hated Christmas. Not that she compared herself to Scrooge in any way. She was a giver. She'd always been a giver. She liked that part of Christmas.
It was just that Christmas never seemed to give back. Being a slightly suspicious person, she harboured a strange belief that Christmas was, in fact, cursed. The thought left her feeling a little bit sacrilegious but she couldn't change things and she had learned from the past.
Claire hated Christmas.
Bah humbug, and all that.
Sighing loudly, she pushed herself up from the mat she was sleeping on and rubbed at her lower back. She had naively hoped the pain would go away after giving birth but it turned out that sleeping on the ground was never comfortable. Gently, she turned and lifted her son, cuddling his face to her cheek.
"You make Christmas good for Mummy, don't you?" she cooed.
Her son, a healthy baby boy she'd named Justin, blinked impossibly big blue eyes at her sleepily and she felt herself melt. Deciding to face Christmas head on, she stood up, folded the baby neatly to her breast, and moved out of the cave, squinting at the early morning sun. She stood disorientated for a minute and then spotted Charlie, strumming at his guitar by the remains of last night's fire. Sun was also up, sitting silently beside Jin. Claire smiled at her and made Justin wave his pudgy baby fist at her as they walked by. Sun smiled back, the silent, gentle smile that Claire had come to appreciate, and even Jin seemed to soften. Jack was talking to somebody she didn't recognize but they both nodded at her in greeting. Michael and Walt were still sleeping and Locke was nowhere to be found.
Sighing, she sat down beside Charlie on the log and said, "Good morning, Charlie."
He jumped, startled by the sudden company, but was quick to recover. Putting his guitar aside, he scooped Justin out of his mother's arms and lifted him high, making him squeal in delight. Charlie grinned up at him and, after a moment, Justin began to wave his arms about, trying to reach Charlie's face. He lowered him down then and pressed a firm kiss to his forehead.
"How's my favourite little peanut?" Charlie asked, tickling at the baby's stomach until his face scrunched up in delight, "Brilliant as always, I see!"
Claire chuckled to herself, although not whole heartedly. Things seemed to be going just fine so far but the day was young and Christmas was known to wreak havoc. This made her glower at the ashes in front of her.
"Looks like Mummy's not as brilliant as always," Charlie whispered conspiratorially to her son, "In fact, Mummy doesn't look even one bit happy today. I think somebody woke up on the wrong side of the sleeping mat." A pause. "Oh, what's that? You think so too? She kept you up all night, did she? Wanting to give you a bite to eat and all that? The nerve of Mummy, yeah!"
Claire poked him on the arm and gave him a small smile. Moving on, he asked, "So, who rained on your parade, Claire?"
She looked at him for a moment, waiting for some sort of seasonal greeting. When his inquisitive smile was all she got, she said, "Do you know what day it is today, Charlie?"
He didn't. She could tell by watching him that he was trying to add up the days on the island mentally and was failing. She humoured him for a little while and then added, "Merry Christmas, Charlie."
Charlie's eyes widened comically. "What? No bloody way! Is it? It can't be!"
Claire laughed sincerely then. "It is! December 25!"
"Are you sure?"
A chuckle again. "I i am /i the one keeping the diary. I know the date."
"Well, I'll be buggered!"
Laughing himself, he pulled her to him and pressed a soft kiss against her cheek. She felt her heart thud almost painfully, and couldn't resist putting her arms around him for a little bit of a snuggle. This was the best and worst part about Charlie. Everything he did could be construed as platonic, unless one looked at it in a light that was entirely but. She found him hard to read on this level, but she herself was not. There was no mistaking the way she felt. The breathlessness, the anticipation, the frustration that the famed rock god would move so impossibly slowly, could only mean one thing. Whether she liked it or not, Claire definitely liked Charlie.
Between them, Justin squealed and banged his little fists lightly against both of their chests in complete and utter innocent mirth. Charlie snickered, a low and gentle rumble against her front, and pressed his cheek against hers. She relished in the scratch of his stubble; in the faint gusts of breath that graced her ear. Kiss me, she wanted to shout, Live up to your reputation and just do it!
But Charlie pulled back and smiled at her, differently this time. More tenderly somehow.
"Merry Christmas, Claire." And, kissing her son again, "Merry Christmas, Justin."
Their eyes met and held. An eyebrow rose in consideration as he regarded her. This was it, she knew.
She ruined the moment. Just panicked and opened her mouth. "I don't think it'll be very merry, Charlie."
"What?! Bollocks! What's not merry about it?"
She gave him a pointed look and gestured around her. "Deserted island here! Plus, running with tradition, I'm sure something will go fantastically wrong."
"That doesn't even cover the half of it," she sighed, shooing a bug away from Justin's forehead, "When I was fifteen, my dad died the week before Christmas. When I was seventeen, our Christmas tree caught fire. Met Thomas on Christmas Eve when I was twenty, which didn't seem so bad at the time. Got kicked out the week after Christmas last year. And here I am!"
Charlie looked flabbergasted. "Well now, that's just bad luck. No need to act all miserly and stingy."
She snorted and shook her head. Out of curiosity, she asked, "What would you be doing?"
He considered this. "This year? I'd be in LA recording our come-back record. Likely be high as a kite and enjoying physical relations with whoever crossed my path on the way to the bloody mass. A real good time, I'm sure."
It was her turn to look astonished. "Well, you can't lecture me then! That doesn't sound too merry!"
He shrugged. "Wouldn't be a bad time though."
"What would you have done before?" she asked, ignoring him.
He gazed wistfully down at Justin for a minute, taking his hand in his own. Tiny fingers wrapped around his thumb and he couldn't stop the smile.
"My mum and dad used to get the biggest tree they could find and we'd all decorate it on Christmas Eve. Sings carols and all that. Seems like clichéd rubbish now but…" A pause. "I miss it, you know?"
She nodded because she did know. This wasn't the Christmas she'd planned for Justin. Granted, she hadn't planned on actually having Justin around for the holiday. The thought made her choke up and she took her son from Charlie to hold him. I'm sorry, she told him silently, as she stroked his brow.
Charlie watched her in quiet contemplation. At last, he stood up and announced, "Well, this year I say we break the mould!"
"Break it how so?" she asked, skeptically.
"You watch!" he said, excited now, "I'm going to throw you a bloody amazing Christmas! You'll be talking about it for years, yeah? Telling the grandkids the one about you being trapped on an island with a crazy ex-junkie who threw you one hell of a party! You just watch, Claire! It's going to be brilliant!"
With that, he turned away from her and, seemingly inspired, started off towards the path that led to the beach.
"Where are you going?" she called after him, unable to suppress a smile at his enthusiasm.
But Charlie would give her nothing. Over his shoulder he yelled, "Just you wait!" before disappearing into the trees.
After an hour and a half of looting old luggage in the sun, Charlie's enthusiasm had begun to wane. He had set off with the simple idea of getting her a present that would knock her socks (or her pants, he wasn't picky) right off, but there just didn't seem to be anything that would do the trick. Old clothes? There were plenty of those. Random broken trinkets? Those had intrigued him at first but handing Claire a smashed piece of rubbish didn't seem to cut it.
No, he needed something special. Something bloody stupendous even. Something that would show her how much he had grown to care for her, since he was too much of a git to say it out loud.
He didn't blame himself, exactly, he pondered as he set into what must have been the hundredth suitcase. It wasn't like he'd ever had to talk about feelings before. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he'd generally set about trying to win a girl over. He wasn't big on relationships at all. The king of one night stands was more like it, but Claire was more than that. He didn't want her for one night.
Well, he did. The thought of her beneath him, smooth white legs locked around his thighs while her nails scraped along his back, kept him awake almost every single night. Kept him entertained all afternoon, thinking of scenarios. He wasn't sure how she hadn't noticed it, exactly. The last time he'd been so randy and so damned gentlemanly about it escaped him completely.
The bother lay in the fact that he knew one night wouldn't cut it. He knew if he had a taste of that forbidden fruit he'd come back for more, endlessly. He could drown in her love, if she did indeed feel something for him.
He felt like a bleeding nancy even thinking about it.
It was then that he saw it, nestled at the bottom of the suitcase in front of him. Squealing a little (in a very manly way, he told himself), he pushed clothes out of his way and grabbed it between his hands.
He knew he was holding perfection.
Charlie was a fool, Claire decided, surveying the caves pessimistically. He had obviously run off to find her a gift and how was she supposed to find him anything? Especially something to compete with whatever it was he found her? Memories of the peanut butter rose unbidden and she felt her insides turn to mush. Hugging herself, she indulged in a moment of silent delight.
But that was her Charlie. Thoughtful to the end, and obviously so willing to help her. He was so good with Justin, so much better than she'd ever thought possible. Recovering heroin addict? Womanizer? Driveshaft's bass guitarist? None of that seemed to matter when she watched him holding her baby, so gently and carefully. She liked it best when he sung to him, low and soft so that nobody else would be disturbed. It made it so easy to imagine the three of them, all cozy in a house someday with a bunch of kids who spoke with a combined English and Australian accent. And she would tell her grandkids about him, too, in this fantasy. Only they would call him grandpa.
Scoffing at herself, she turned in a full circle and sighed.
"Hopeless!" she muttered.
And she had tried. Sun had offered, through gestures, to watch Justin for her and, along with her husband, they had gone for a walk to the beach. Jack was nowhere to be found- off with Locke, she thought, or maybe it was Kate?- and Michael had taken Walt for a swim. Nobody else was hanging about and she had been pleased at the opportunity to surprise Charlie uninterrupted.
Except there was nothing here.
Nothing here except…
Gasping, she rushed a little ways into the trees and stared at it. It was nothing more than a sapling, seemingly broken down by the wind. It wasn't a spruce tree but it was a tree, even though she didn't know what kind. Painfully skinny, anyway, and almost bare of branches, but there was something withered and sad about it that drew her to it. Clapping her hands, she reached for it and gave it a tug, trying to clear it from the branches it was tangled up in.
The snap of a twig behind her caught her attention and made her jump. Whirling around, she saw Sawyer emerge from the path, water bottle in hand and a sack on his back. She blinked in surprise. Not once since she had moved from the beach had she seen Sawyer, and his appearance now was utterly baffling. She braced herself simply because it seemed the thing to do around him, even though she had nothing against him personally. He had been nice to her when she had performed the memorial, contributing as he had, and he had never once mentioned her pregnancy in a derogatory manner.
Other than Charlie, in fact, he seemed to be the only one completely unbothered by it.
"Well, if it ain't the Virgin Mary," he drawled, pausing a few feet away to rest a hand on his hip. He stuck his knee out in a practiced slouched and smirked at her. She tried to be infuriated by it and the nickname but all she could feel was oddly flattered. He was all hot air, she decided then and there. Maybe it was because she'd always had a thing for the bad boy, but she found him rather charming.
"Hello," she offered, suddenly embarrassed to be caught tugging at a tree. She stepped away from it and caught her shirt on a twig. Frowning, she pulled at it and added, "What brings you up here?"
He sniggered at her a little, although not entirely unkindly. "Came up to get some water. Noticed most everybody seems to be in my camp. Thought I'd sneak away. Feeling crowded."
There was a pause and Sawyer shifted his weight. Now that he was up here, he was extremely embarrassed. When he had come across the book the first week of the crash, he had held onto it on a whim. After the birth of Claire's baby, he hadn't been able to bring himself to throw it out. Plus with Kate blabbering at him all day and all night about how cute of a kid he was, Sawyer had accidentally found himself liking the baby, without even meeting him. Admired him, maybe even a little, for coming out alright despite all the odds.
"Merry Christmas, Sawyer," Claire blurted out, to fill the silence.
A healthy blush stained her cheeks and Sawyer couldn't help but smile at her a little. He could see why Charlie found her attractive, now that her intimidating bump was all born, even if she wasn't Sawyer's type. He liked a bit more fire in his girls but he couldn't begrudge the other man his choice in Claire.
"Well, I guess it is Christmas, ain't it?" He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Guess that makes it a fine occasion to bring you this. For the kid."
With that, he pulled the pack of his back and all but threw Mother Goose's Collection of Nursery Rhymes at her. She stepped out of the trees to grab it and then simply gawked from the book to Sawyer.
He felt like a jackass. He wanted that bullet back from the marshal simply to end his own agony.
"Don't you be telling anybody you got that from me, you hear?" he barked, wanting to turn tail and run. Polar bears he could handle. Mothers who eyes were filling with tears? Leave that to somebody else, thank you very much.
"I-I won't," she stammered. Then, sincerely, "Thanks, Sawyer."
He shrugged, awkward again. "Yeah, well, just cause we're stuck on this damned shithole doesn't mean the kid shouldn't get an education."
The smile she flashed at him was so bright that he found himself in another time and place, where another woman had grinned at him like that. When he himself had had a mother to turn to.
Shaking away unwanted memories, he asked, "What are you doing in the bush?"
It was her turn to colour. She gestured at the tree and harrumphed. "It's a present for Charlie. A tree." A pause. "Only it's stuck."
There was no doubting the meaning of that tentative smile. Grumbling, he pushed past her and said, "You just gotta give it a good yank. Here."
With one great tug, it was free. He offered it to Claire, who snatched it up and moved it to her nook. She placed the book down on her sleeping mat with a reverent tenderness and smiled at him again.
"Sweet on him, huh?" he guessed, trying and failing to give a convincing swagger.
Her face felt like it was on fire. "We're having Christmas together, is all."
He rolled his eyes but nodded. Without grabbing his water, he headed off towards the path, and yelled a final, "Merry Christmas, Claire!"
Shannon was in a bad mood. If ever a bitch had walked the damn shores of this island, there was none greater than Shannon. Kicking at the sand, she marched towards her shelter, swearing as she went.
Christmas! Like that was something to be concerned about here. And Boone was going on about it nonstop like it was as important as their irritatingly absent rescue ship ever since Charlie had mentioned it to Jack and got the idea of a supper rolling.
She didn't feel like supper. She didn't feel like having no presents to give. She felt like lying down in her tent and never waking up.
Pushing aside the flap, she stomped in and made to sit down.
An eerie English rumble of, "Hello, Shannon" nearly did her in. Jumping around, she saw the guy she'd conned into fishing for her slouching far into the corner. His hood was up, although she couldn't imagine why in the heat, and everything about him looked… evil.
"Charlie?" she asked, forcing her voice out loud and harsh.
He smiled at her, an icy little smirk that sent shivers down her spine, and said very evenly, "Hello, Shannon. I think we can both agree that you owe me a little favour."
The sun was almost setting when Charlie returned to the caves, present nestled under his arm. He had seen Sun leave with Justin about an hour ago and was anxious to get home; to show Claire his gift.
Checking his watch, he made note of the time. By his calculations, he had approximately forty five minutes to give his gift before heading back down to the beach for the supper Kate and Jack had planned there.
Smiling to himself, he cleared the trees, strutted into the open area by the fire, and… stopped.
There, by the mouth of Claire's nook, stood a Christmas tree. Nothing fancy like the ones he'd had as a boy, but immensely beautiful in its own right because it had obviously taken time. Wondering when Claire had slipped down to the beach, he noticed that tiny sea shells had been strung together to act as garland. Larger ones in an exotic array of colour dangled as ornaments and on top of the tree she had tied a big and bright flower, petals pulled at to create the shape of a star.
He felt himself choke up and cleared his throat a little, but the picture wasn't completed. On the left of the tree sat Claire, holding Justin in her lap and reading to him from a book she must have picked up somewhere. The light from the fading sun danced across her hair, making it seem more like gold than the slightly tangled curls it actually was. The same beams danced across her face, highlighting the swells of her cheeks as she smiled, and the whole thing gave him pause.
She looked ethereal, like a bloody angel.
His bloody angel.
He cleared his throat again, louder this time, and she looked up. For a moment, all they did was stare at each other, caught up as they both were. He thought she sucked in a quick breath. He did without doubt. Wide blue eyes bore into his and he…
He was a goner.
"Claire," he mumbled, moving forward to her. She started to rise but he reached her first, placing his hands on her shoulders to hold her in place. "You did all this for…me?"
He sounded as though he couldn't believe it. Smiling, she raised a hand to clasp his and nodded.
"Yeah, of course!" she said, laughing a little, "Who else deserves a tree? Even if it is a bit on the small side, and kind of missing some branches. And the ornaments aren't real. If you don't like it-"
His lips cut her off. Her eyes flew open, revealing an odd one eyed Charlie, and then his hands were on her cheeks and in her hair and his mouth! What glorious things it could do, so gentle and teasing without being too forward. He kissed her slowly and languidly and then her mouth was open and his tongue was slipping in…
He pulled away on a sigh. "It's perfect. Absolutely perfect."
She blushed and looked down in time to see his hand join with hers. She thought the lump in her throat might choke her. Who would have thought that here on what was supposed to be a nightmare of an island was where she would find someone just right for her.
"Where's my prezzie?" she asked, trying to sound teasing and failing entirely.
Charlie smirked smugly at her and withdrew something from behind his back. Motioning for her to lay Justin down on her sleeping mat, he flashed his gift with a giant grin.
Claire caught her breath and reached for it, rubbing her hands over the cloth cover.
"A journal!" she cried, "You found me another journal!"
Laughing at her excitement, he caught her hands and made her open it. "No, not a journal, in the truest sense. Knew some birds back home who were into this kind of thing. It's a baby book, for you to write in about Justin, so he doesn't feel left out by the other kiddies with records when we get out of here."
Smiling, she looked at the smooth pages and had another shock awaiting her. The first ten pages were covered in drawings of Justin, drawings that were almost exact replicas of her son. She flipped through it eagerly, eating up every picture with her eyes. Some included her, some included Charlie, and they were all perfect.
"You draw?" she breathed, wondering what else he could do.
He had the grace to look sheepish. "Nah, but it turns out Shannon does."
"Shannon?!" she gasped, "She drew these for you?"
A shrug. "Let's just say she owed me a favour. So you like it then?"
She looked up and met his gaze as he leaned towards her. His fingers found her chin again and she felt herself falling. Wondered briefly if she'd ever stop before deciding firmly that it didn't matter.
"Like it?" she said softly as his lips perused her cheek, "Oh, Charlie, this is the merriest Christmas I've ever had."
And, as he kissed in her in the nook of her cave with her son sleeping quietly behind them, he couldn't have agreed more.