TITLE: Hot Rain
AUTHOR: Mnemosyne

Disclaimer: Not mine! Though I wish they were. It's fun to mess with their heads like this. ;)
SUMMARY: Claire's sickly baby boy is miraculously cured, and only Mr. Locke and Charlie know how it happened.
RATING: PG-13, just to be safe. This is pretty dark, folks!
NOTES:
This story is a HEAD TRIP. I don't know where it came from. It just… did. You know stories like that? If you get to the ending and don't understand, that's okay -- I tried to spell things out without spelling EVERYTHING out. That just wouldn't be any fun! ;) Please read and enjoy. Like I said before -- it's WEIRD. But it was fun to write, and a bit of a departure from my usual fluff. Have fun!


"Charlie! Char- Oh! Hello, Mr. Locke. I'm sorry, I was looking for Charlie. He was going to come to the beach with Bennett and I. Have you seen him?"

"He was here earlier, but he's gone now. I'm not sure where he is, I'm sorry."

"Oh…"

"The boy is looking healthy. His cough's gone away, I assume?"

"Yes! Isn't he beautiful? Aren't you mummy's precious little baby boy? I woke up this morning just after sunrise and he was sleeping, peaceful as can be."

"You must have been thankful for that."

"More than you can know. Jack said his breathing sounds much better, and he hasn't been trembling, either. I need to find Charlie and tell him. He'll be so thrilled!"

"I'm sure he will be."

"Did you notice what direction he went when he left? Was he going to the beach? Maybe he's waiting for us."

"No. No, I don't think so."

"Oh… Well, back to the caves then? Maybe he's taking a shower."

"I don't think you'll find him at the caves, Claire."

"Where else would he be? There's nothing but jungle around here. And Charlie doesn't like the jungle, does he, baby Bennie? No he doesn't. No he doesn't!"

"There are other places in the jungle, Claire. I believe he's gone to one of those."

"What… You mean like more caves?"

"Not exactly, no."

"The golf course?"

"No."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Locke, but am I supposed to be understanding what you're talking about? Because I'm not, I'm afraid. Could you please tell me where Charlie is, if you know? Otherwise I'll just go see if anyone else has seen him."

"This island, Claire… Have you ever taken the time to look at it in detail?"

"Well… Yes, I think. There's not much else to do. Until now, that is, with Bennie here. Why?"

"It's a dynamic place, constantly in flux. The boars, for example. Before we were here, they'd had little to no experience with humans. They were a dominant force on the island, and now, they're our prey. The strong succumbing to the stronger."

"Yes…?"

"We as humans can't understand that. Going from a place of such power to suddenly being the prey. On this island we've had a taste of it; we feel a bit of that fear. But after a time, even surrounded by danger, we place blinders on our own eyes and somehow convince ourselves that we're safe. Nothing can hurt us."

"Mr. Locke, I-"

"But what do we do, Claire, when we are suddenly met with the most terrifying thing of all? Not an external enemy; we can defend against that. When there's danger, we run. If we can't run, we fight. But what do we do when suddenly we're faced with the prospect of NEW life? And this new life is so young, so fresh, it can't defend itself. It can't run; it can't fight. It depends on us completely, and where we fail, it dies."

"Mr. Locke, I don't think you should talk-"

"But before we can even BEGIN to defend that life, it starts to suffer. It starts to die. And in those moments of utter hopelessness, we look to a higher power -- something more dominant then our own tiny selves -- and we ask it for relief. We pray, we beg, we plead and we bargain. Anything, we say. Anything, if you'll just spare this life. I'll give it all, but please, don't let this life expire. So young, so unlearned. Anything I can give, you can have it. Take anything. Take me."

------------------------------

She felt Bennett's hand on her chest, warm and soft and alive.

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"There is no God in the wild, Claire. There is Man and Nature, and there's no such thing as a miracle."

-------------------------------

She shook her head, aware that her eyes were wide and disbelieving
and not caring a whit. "No," she said firmly, but with a tremble in her voice.
"There are miracles. Ben…Bennie's BREATHING. He IS a miracle!"

---------------------------------

"No he isn't, Claire. He's a gift. And he was paid for."

"WHEN did you last see Charlie? Tell me when you last saw Charlie!"

"Just before sunrise."

--------------------------------

With a sound like a slamming door, her heart stopped.

--------------------------------

"Nature can be brutal, Claire. Beautiful, but brutal. Look at what it's given us here on this island. A lush jungle full of predators. A magnificent ocean with deadly riptides. Rolling hills with steep, jagged edges that plummet to rocky ravines. Sheltering caves that collapse."

"Where did he go? Please, Mr. Locke, tell me you told him not to go? Tell me he didn't go!"

"Charlie sold himself to this island, Claire. He's been dead a long time."

"He told me about the drugs. He TOLD me. He BURNED them. The island gave him his guitar, and in exchange, he gave the island his drugs. He doesn't owe this place ANYTHING ELSE."

"This island gave him his life back. The scales were always weighted in its favor. Nature called in the debt."

"What did he do? Where is he!"

"Don't see it as a sacrifice. See it as a gift."

--------------------------------

Claire felt the tears on her lashes more than she noticed the blurring
of her vision. She heard her voice speaking, though she had no sense
of saying the words.

"This island doesn't give gifts, Mr. Locke," she whispered.

He met her eyes with his steely calm gaze.

"No," he agreed placidly. "It doesn't."

-----------------------------------

"He didn't have to save the boy. The island could have taken him, and Charlie's debt would have been paid. A life for a life. But what kind of life would it have been for Charlie had he known he could have saved your son by paying his debt himself?"

"Did you tell him this, you bastard? Did you make him believe this!"

"Bennett's breathing, Claire. Tell me -- what do YOU believe?"

-----------------------------------------

She believed in immune systems, and white blood cells,
and the triumph of science over the shadowboxes of superstition.
THAT was what she believed, when she wanted to lie to
herself and pretend the guilt wasn't crippling.

----------------------------

"What was your price?"

"It's over now, Claire."

"What was your price, you son of a bitch. What did this place make you pay before you became its shaman?"

-------------------------------------

His gaze was collected, like cards in a shoebox. A mish-mashed jumble of controlled chaos.

"Her name was Joanna," he said without preamble. "Both of us liked to swim."

-------------------------------

Somehow she was running. Someone had taken Bennett; a pair of sheltering arms without a face. She could hear her son screaming somewhere in the near distance, but knew he would be safe. Feet crashed in the underbrush behind her. "Claire!" they cried, but she ignored them and plowed on through the jungle.

"CHARLIE!" she screamed, for the first time in her life feeling true panic. "CHARLIE, WHERE ARE YOU!"

Her pursuers gave up and their footsteps tapered off. Perhaps they thought she'd gone a little crazy; a new form of tropical post-partum depression. Let them believe it. She still had her mind. And her mind had only one goal.

Like the sun emerging from behind a thunderhead, she burst through the veil of trees into a rutted, rocky clearing. Coming to a stop, she stared wild-eyed around the grove. Branches overhung the clearing in a natural canopy, allowing the watery, early morning sunlight to paint dappled patches on the moss. The sound of dripping water pattering on the leaves nearby was the only noise, outside of her labored breathing. All else was motionless, steady and calm.

There hadn't been rain in a week.

"Charlie…?" she whispered, her heart in her throat, and squeezed her eyes shut. "Oh God, please Charlie…"

She stretched a trembling hand out to the side.

Drip, drip

Hot rain.

She opened her eyes, looked up…

And screamed.

The End