Disclaimer: Not mine!
SUMMARY: Charlie's jealous, and hatches a plan to catch Claire's eye anew, with unexpectedly painful results.
RATING: PG-13, for some language and sensual references
CHARACTERS: Charlie/Claire, Hurley, Jack
This was written for willowish as part of Teffy's "Snuggly OTP C&C Ficathon." May I present Sweet!Claire, Tolerant!Hurley, and Spazzy!Charlie being adorably clueless once again, because I just can't get enough of that boy. Please read and enjoy, all!
Dedication: To willowish, who wanted them to talk about Charlie's Beatles tattoo. It takes a while, but it's in here! I hope you enjoy it, dahling!
"Would you just look at that?"
"THAT. It's disgusting."
Hurley followed Charlie's sullen gaze across the caves, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. "I don't know what you're talking about, man," he said, squinting at the other castaways.
"You're telling me you don't see that?" Charlie sniped, gesturing vaguely across the cavern again.
"It might help, man, if I had a clue what you were talking about. All I see are people hanging out, talking, doing stuff."
Hurley rolled his eyes. Charlie was fun. He was the closest to Hurley's own wry sense of humor, and they got on great. But sometimes, trying to make sense of the former rocker's train of thought was like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube: lots of pretty colors, and no clue how to put them together. "Okay, I guess we have to play Twenty Questions," Hurley mused. "Again. Is it animal?"
"LOOK at them!"
"Okay, that's a yes. Does it start with a 'C'?"
"RIGHT THERE. In front of me! Like I didn't have the eyes God gave me!"
"I think I'm getting warm. Does this by any chance have to do with Claire?"
Charlie gave him a distracted look. "What? Hurley, have you been paying ANY attention to me, or what? Don't you see what they're DOING?"
"Yep, it's Claire. Only Claire gets you this hot under the collar." Hurley looked across the cave again. Sure enough, Claire was chatting with Jack, baby Pamela on her lap. The two adults were laughing about something as the little girl played with her mother's hair. "I don't know what you think's so bad about it, dude. They're just talking."
"THAT is not talking, my friend," Charlie sulked. "That's flirting, that is. Oh, bloody hell, see that? What he just did there?"
"What, looking down?"
"…It's bad to look down?"
"It is when Claire's sodding LAP is right there! What do you think he could be looking at, huh?"
"Um… Maybe the baby?"
"Sure, right, yeah that's it. Pfft!"
"Dude, you just said Pfft. That's gotta be, like, a hundred points off your manliness meter or something. I think you're going a little overboard." He paused, then added, "Okay, forget that. This isn't just a little overboard. This is off the side of the ship, caught in the churning foam being kicked up by the propellers, drunk off your ass and naked. They're just TALKING, man, not making out or something."
"They could be VERBALLY COPULATING."
Hurley sighed. Again. He tended to sigh a lot when Charlie was spazzing. "Charlie, dude, I'm going to tell you this once, even though I know you're not going to listen. Claire loves you, and that's that. Just because she's talking to someone else doesn't mean she now DOESN'T love you. Although if you march over there and accuse her of verbally copulating, you're probably going to find yourself sleeping on the island equivalent of the couch for a week."
"I bet it's the tattoos."
Hurley pinched the bridge of his nose. "What?"
Charlie jerked his head in Jack's direction. "The tattoos," he said again. "Not only is he a bloody doctor, but he's got TATTOOS. Girls dig tattoos. Girls dig doctors. It's a one-two punch, the cocky bastard." He crossed his arms petulantly across his chest. "Why not just put a sign around his neck that says Hung like a bull and have done with it?"
Hurley laughed. There was nothing else to do. "Charlie, you amaze me, dude. You've got this awesome woman who loves the stuffing out of you, and you're worried she's going to get lured away because of some pretty pictures on someone's arm? You've got tattoos, too, you know."
He knew immediately it was the wrong thing to say.
Charlie's eyes lit up. "Yeah," he said, sitting up straight. "Yeah, I do. Bloody great ones, too. With MEANING. AND I'm a rock star. That'll wollop a medical degree any day of the week!" He rubbed his hands together eagerly. "YES! This is perfect! Brilliant, Hurley, thanks!"
Hurley watched his excitement warily. "Uh, I didn't suggest anything, dude," he said. "I was just, you know, reminding you in passing."
"Yeah, but it's still bloody BRILLIANT. Now I just have to remind Claire!"
"No you don't."
"Yeah I do!"
"Dude, you REALLY don't."
"Yes I DO, Hurley. Come on, Hurl, you're my best mate. You've got to help me out here!"
Not for the first time, Hurley was reminded of how life on this island always seemed to be one extreme or the other. If Sawyer or Sayid or Locke was involved, it generally tended towards Heart of Darkness. But whenever Charlie asked him to "help" him out, it turned into an episode of Gilligan's Island. And for whatever reason, Hurley kept falling for it. Because I HAVE to, he thought. Who knows what would happen if I let the dude do this stuff on his own.
"Fine," he said, exhaling heavily. "What do you need me to do?"
"Stare admiringly at my bicep."
Hurley did so.
"Not now, you git," Charlie said. "When we're closer to Claire. I'll figure out a reason to flex it a bit. You've got to make it really obvious, so's she'll ask you what you're looking at. Understand?"
"And once I've got her talking, grab Jack and take him away."
"He's the competition, Hurley. You don't let the competition hang around when you're trying to impress the ladies. That's why stallions fight each other and rams butt heads and whatnot."
"There's an idea. Why don't you just smash your skull against Jack's, dude. That'd impress her. Or she'd think you were a dumbass. Either way, it's a 50/50 shot."
"Funny. You coming?" Charlie was already standing, readying himself to cross the cave and woo his lady fair."
Hurley shrugged. "Ready as I'll ever be," he said, hauling himself to his feet. "I can't let you go alone anyway, since you're going to need the Heimlich maneuver."
"For when you start choking on the foot you're gonna put in your mouth."
Claire knew something weird was going on when Charlie started lifting rocks to nowhere.
The lifting of the rocks wasn't the weird part. It was the purposelessness of the activity that was strange. Normally when the castaways shifted rocks it was because they needed the area for sleeping, or eating, or some other useful purpose. But this just seemed to be… lifting. Maybe it was some kind of exercise? Because he certainly seemed to be flexing his muscles quite a bit as he did it.
"Excuse me, Jack," she said, looking over the doctor's shoulder. "Charlie!" she called out. "What're you doing?"
Charlie looked back at her with something that might have been surprise on his face. "Who, me?" he asked, picking up another rock, hefting it above his head and depositing it on a natural shelf higher up the cavern wall, along with the other stones he'd been moving. "Nothing. Just, you know… tidying."
Claire smiled, a little mystified. Charlie was a puzzle, that was for certain. "Oh… Okay. Just don't hurt yourself, all right?"
"Yep!" Bend. LIFT. "Not a problem, Claire, I've got it all taken care of." Flex arm. Set down. Repeat.
Claire watched him for a second longer, then turned back to Jack, still smiling. "Sorry about that," she said with an embarrassed giggle. "But when Charlie starts doing odd things, I get a bit worried. You know, in case it's Dengue fever or something."
Jack chuckled. "I'll let you know if I see any of the symptoms."
She grinned. "Thanks. So Lala's okay then?"
Jack nodded. "Yep! Fit as a fiddle, which is saying something for spending her first few months on a deserted island without any proper medical care. She's healthy as can be."
Claire beamed. "Hear that. Lala?" she cooed, lifting Pamela up so she could nuzzle the little girl's cheek. "Did you hear what Dr. Jack said? He said you're fit as a fiddle!" She kissed the tip of her daughter's nose, making the baby girl laugh " My pretty girl!"
Jack laughed. "I want to keep a close eye on her though," he said through his smile. "I still want her to have a checkup every week until she's at least a year old. Without medicine or sanitary conditions, the best way to counter an infection is to get on it early. All right?"
Claire nodded, propping Pamela on her shoulder and saluting. "Aye aye, captain."
"You're supposed to bloody get her attention!"
"Like we talked about!"
Claire raised her eyebrow, intrigued by the none-too-quiet whispers. "Sorry, Jack," she said, standing up, Pamela on her hip. "My ears are burning."
Jack winked at her. "Sure thing."
"Did you bloody see that? Did you SEE that!"
"No, dude, my eyes were occupied."
"How could you MISS that?"
"Because I'm doing THIS."
Claire looked up from where Jack was gathering together his supplies, and nearly fell down laughing.
Hurley was sitting not three feet away from Charlie, staring at the other man's arm like he'd discovered some rare and precious insect and it was crawling on the rock star's bicep. Charlie, meanwhile, was still moving rocks, only now his supply on the ground had run out, so he was taking them DOWN from the shelf where he'd been depositing them and was putting them back on the floor of the cave. It looked like some bizarre form of Charades, where she was supposed to guess what movie they were acting out.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark?" she guessed aloud, crossing the distance between them, an amused smile on her lips. "The bit where Indiana takes the golden idol from the temple. Am I close?"
Charlie looked over his shoulder at her in bewilderment. "What?"
"This is Charades, right?" She came to a stop, cocking her hip to steady Pamela. "Or some weird kind of pantomime. Otherwise it's just a silly stunt to get attention, and I KNOW neither of you would do something like that, right?" She grinned, eyes sparkling.
"Hey, Claire," Hurley said, giving her a friendly wave.
"Hello, Hurley. Is Charlie using you to get my attention again?"
"HEY! I resent that!"
"I kind of walked right into it, Claire. So it's partly my fault."
"Is there anything particularly I should know before dear Mr. Pace and I have a little chat?"
"Claire, don't believe a WORD HE SAYS. He's just trying to get me in trouble."
"Only that he thinks you've got a thing for Jack because he's a doctor with tattoos. Or something. I dunno, it's hard to follow his train of thought sometimes. Kinda like a labyrinth, only without the David Bowie."
"Excuse me, you two, but I'm RIGHT HERE, thanks very much. And Labyrinth without David Bowie, my friend, would be like Spinal Tap without Michael McK- OW!" The watermelon-sized rock he'd been lifting tumbled from Charlie's grasp as he bent forward, his hand flying around to press on his lower back. "BLOODY HELL!"
Claire's eyes widened with immediate worry. "Oh no, Charlie, what did you do?" she asked, hurrying forward to lay a hand on his back, rubbing soothingly.
"Nothing," he said between gritted teeth, visibly trying to show no pain and failing miserably. "Nothing at all. Just a twinge is all. It'll be gone in a minute."
"No it won't, Charlie. You pulled something, didn't you? Oh, Charlie…" Still rubbing his back, she looked helplessly to Hurley. "Hurley, could you please take Lala for a bit?"
"Sure thing. Come here, Pammy." The larger man took the little girl from her arms. Pamela cooed and kicked her feet in delight at being handed over to her favorite uncle. "I'll go get Jack, too," he said, standing up.
"No!" Charlie exclaimed, before grimacing in pain again. "I don't need any help. I'm fine!"
"Charlie, don't be ridiculous," Claire scolded. "You can't stand up out of a ninety degree angle." Turning back to Hurley, she smiled. "Thank you, Hurley."
The other man nodded. "Sure thing. Take it easy, dude, I'll be right back with Jack."
"I told you, I don't need bloody Jack!" Charlie protested as Hurley walked away.
"Stop trying to be manly and invulnerable, Charlie," Claire chided gently. "Just tell me where it hurts."
"It DOESN'T hu-OUCH!"
"Right there?" She carefully ran her fingers over his lower back again.
Leaning forward, she kissed the back of his neck. "Oh, Charlie," she said with a smile, nuzzling his hair. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Yep, definitely a lower back sprain," Jack said, sitting back from his analysis of Charlie's lower back. "Not a herniated disc, which is a good thing. A couple days of bed rest and then some simple exercises should heal him right up."
"Did you hear that, Charlie?" Claire said, stroking Charlie's hair, his head pillowed in her lap. "Jack says you just strained your back. You'll be fine in a couple of days."
Charlie wondered why it was that women -- particularly mothers -- always felt like they had to repeat everything that was said, as if the intended recipient hadn't heard. "I heard," he said, then groaned a little. "Don't suppose you have any ibuprofen to use in the interim, do you, Jack?"
"I'll see what I can do."
"He'll see what he can do, Charlie."
"Thanks, I got that."
"You just take it easy," Jack said, standing up. Gesturing to a small fire he'd built nearby, he continued, "I put some compresses on to boil. Once they're heated, just take them off the fire, let them cool a bit and press them over the pain. It should help."
"Not a problem. Rest up, Charlie, all right?" Charlie nodded. Jack smiled, nodded to Claire and walked away.
"There, you heard him," Claire said, rubbing between his shoulder blades. "Just take it easy and rest up. You'll be good as new in a couple of days. We just have to take the compresses off the fire and use them on the pain."
Charlie closed his eyes, nodding.
This was humiliating.
Twenty minutes ago, he'd been on top of the world. He was strong, he was fit, he was a prime piece of Man-land real estate. Now he was curled up in a fetal position, an airplane pillow tucked between his knees to ease the pressure on his back, being coddled by the same woman he was trying to impress when he got the injury. Not that he had a problem with being coddled -- that was actually quite nice -- but this was certainly NOT what he'd had planned when he put his earlier plan into action.
"Hmm?" The soothing touch of her hand between his shoulders was lulling him into a kind of half-doze. The only thing keeping him from falling asleep completely was the pain in his lower back.
"Why were you doing all that anyway? The rocks and all that. Were you really jealous of Jack?"
Charlie harrumphed noncommittally, feeling foolish and childish now that he looked back on it.
What was it about when she said his name that way that made him feel five-years old again? It was her Mothering Tone -- he capitalized it in his head and everything. It made him feel two feet tall. "You've got to admit he's a pretty good-looking guy," he said in his defense. "And he's a doctor. And he's got all those tattoos. You were making all kinds of googly eyes at him."
"Charlie, he was giving Pamela her check-up! We were talking, that's all. If you were going to be jealous you should have done it when he was actually DELIVERING Lala and got to see everything there is to see."
Charlie frowned, feeling his mood darken. "Thanks for reminding me." When she started shaking, he dared a glance over his shoulder and saw that she was laughing. "What?" he asked petulantly. "Why're you laughing at me?"
Claire's eyes were watering from her laughter as she stroked his hair back from his eyes. "Oh, Charlie…!" she gasped, leaning down to kiss his forehead. "I'm laughing because you're such an adorable dork! Just because he's a doctor and has tattoos and I'm TALKING to him doesn't mean I fancy him over you. You have tattoos, too, you know."
Charlie perked up a little. "Yeah, I do," he said, smiling at her. "Good ones, too."
"Like that elvish symbol thingy, right?"
"Yeah! You know, because I was in New Zealand, and all those folks from that movie had done it, and I figured, why not me?"
"Right! And this one…" He felt the butterfly touch of her fingertips tracing the words on his left bicep. "Living is easy with eyes closed…," she murmured. "'Strawberry Fields Forever.' The Beatles. Why did you choose that quote?"
Charlie let his eyes drift closed. "Mmmm," he murmured, snuggling into her lap. "Because it's true."
Claire laughed, placing her palm over the tattoo. "That's not a cue for you to fall asleep, mister!" she chided teasingly, running her other hand through his hair. "Really, why did you choose it, Charlie? There are so many other things you could have used -- a lyric from one of your own songs even. Why this one?"
How did you explain to someone who couldn't possibly understand? "I missed the Christmas Mass," he murmured.
"After we released the first album. I missed Christmas Mass. I always went at midnight, every year. It was tradition. I liked it. The carols, the hymns, the atmosphere of so many people just coming together to be with each other and remember. It was comfortable.
"But then that first year everything was going so fast, and we were on tour, and we made the circuit of every talk show in Europe, it felt like. I woke up one day and Liam was shoving a present into my hands, and I realized it was Christmas morning, and I'd slept through the Christmas Mass and half of Switzerland." He paused, opening his eyes as the memories flooded his vision; but even wide open he could see the pictures clear as day.
"I was pretty shaken up," he continued quietly, as Claire's gentle fingers combed through his hair. "When you break a routine, it tends to mess with your head, right? But then I opened the present and it was a Rolex. A real one. We could NEVER have afforded that kind of thing before the album, but there it was, all mine. And I kind of… forgot how much I missed going to the Mass. And the next year, we were home for the holidays, and I just… slept in. I didn't get a Rolex that year, because the second album wasn't doing so hot, and Liam had his habit to sustain, and so did I. My head was pounding and I think I threw up. All I wanted to do was go back to sleep. But I dragged myself up out of bed and went and found the only bloody tattoo parlor that was open on Christmas, 'cause I figured pain somewhere else would keep my head from exploding. And when the guy asked me what I wanted, that's what I told him. Life is easy with eyes closed. Because it is. At the time it was a joke, because I just wanted to go to sleep and forget everything. But then I woke up one day, stone cold sober, and I looked at myself in the mirror and wished I hadn't. It's hard to face yourself on a daily basis when you can't stand the person you've turned into, you know?" He sighed, staring across the cave to where Hurley was playing with Pamela. "When you get like that, life's just easier with your eyes closed, because it's not really living. It's just… being. Which isn't the same thing at all, but when you've lost yourself somewhere along the way, it's all you have. If you spend too much time looking at yourself in the mirror, you stop completely. And that's death."
They were quiet for a few minutes. Then Charlie felt Claire lean down to kiss his ear. "I'm glad you opened them."
He looked over his shoulder at her and saw she was smiling, tears balanced on her lashes. "Why?"
"Because you have beautiful eyes," she whispered, caressing his face with her dancing fingertips. "They're one of the things I love about you."
Charlie felt himself blushing. "Just one?" he asked, half-teasing.
Claire laughed quietly, blinking away her tears. "Yes, just one," she murmured, rubbing his back again. "You want me to list some more?"
"I'm in mortal agony because I was picking up rocks to impress a girl. My ego COULD do with a bit of stroking, yeah."
Claire chuckled. "All right then," she said. "We said your eyes. Then there's your nose." She kissed his nose. "And your smile." She dropped a soft kiss on his mouth, giggling when his tongue darted out to taste her lips. "And the way you say my name."
She nodded. "Yep."
"Claire, Claire, Claire, Claire-"
"Stop it!" she exclaimed, laughing and gently hitting his arm.
"You said you liked it!" he argued impishly.
"I do! But too much of a good thing is still too much." She nuzzled his temple.
"Is that all you love about me?" he asked a few seconds later.
"Are you going to tell me the rest?"
"Maybe. Someday. The next time you hurt yourself by being a complete nitwit and I have to remind you all OVER again how much I love you. Because it will happen, Charlie." Claire sighed, sitting up and resting her back against the wall, massaging his arm. "It's just one more thing I love about you."
Charlie smiled, directing his gaze forward again. After a few seconds he kissed her bare knee, smiling when she giggled. "Do you think those compresses are ready yet?" he asked after a couple of minutes.
"Probably. Do you want me to get them for you?"
"Could you? And a long stick."
"Why do you want a stick?"
"So I can fling them across the cave at Hurley's head. It's the perfect target, and I owe him some payback for completely failing to back me up in my plan to woo your socks off."
Claire laughed. "Charlie!"
"What? It's justice!"
Claire gently extricated herself out from under his head and crawled around behind him. "Charlie, in case you hadn't noticed, Hurley is looking after Pamela." She kissed his cheek. "You are completely incapacitated." She kissed his shoulder. "And we're at the back of the cave, so no one's behind you." She kissed between his shoulder blades. He could feel her spooning up behind him, her slender fingers tracing delicate patterns on his back. "I took massage therapy lessons, you know. You just lay still, and let Claire make you feel all better, okay?"
Charlie moaned quietly as he felt her cotton-covered breasts graze against his back. "Yes, ma'am," he murmured huskily.
Forget heat. He'd take a Claire Compress any day.