Hangman

by Dreamality

Summary: Ethan and Charlie play a deadly game of Hangman.

Rating: PG for character death

Please note: This story will involve major spoilers through the most recent episode, "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues."

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.

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"You wanna play hangman, Charlie?"

Beneath Ethan's steely voice was an undercurrent of mocking, of taunting. Charlie clenched his teeth and said nothing, refusing to acknowledge him and give merit to his words. Ethan laughed harshly.

"Scared a little, are you, Charlie? Shaking in your boots, maybe?" Ethan kicked him suddenly with a heavy boot and Charlie grunted with pain. Beside him, Claire was whimpering softly and his arms ached to reach out and hold her, give her some kind of comfort, but his wrists were bound behind his back. The blindfold prevented him from seeing her, and the darkness was beginning to frighten him. He knew she was there beside him, yet somehow the blindfold made her seem light years away, unable to be reached, lost to him forever.

Bile crept up his throat. He forced it down. The back of his eyes were burning with tears he refused to shed. Charlie had never been so scared in his entire life, not only because he was sure that Ethan was going to kill him eventually (and probably in the very near future), but also because Claire was in danger, too, and that was the worst pain of all. For the first time in many long years, Charlie wished for his big brother.

If anyone would know what to do it would be Liam. And even if he didn't, he could always make Charlie feel like everything was going to be all right.

Of course, that had all been a long time ago. All the wishing in the world was not going to change the fact that he had thoroughly botched that relationship up. Even if a fairy godmother appeared and agreed to go find Liam and ask him to come save his baby brother, Liam'd just say, "Oh, no thanks, just let him die if you'd be so kind, rid the world of one more sodding junkie."

And maybe –probably– he would be right.

"How bout it, Charlie? One little game of Hangman. And no asking for best two out of three once you lose. This is a sudden death round." There was that harsh laugh again, and Charlie was transported back to his grade school days when the big boys would tease him and push him around because he was so small. Back then, Charlie could count on Liam to rescue him, because Liam used to be fond of saying that the only person allowed to make fun of his Baby Brother was him, no exceptions.

Now there was no Liam, only Charlie, and he knew that he had to grasp at this one chance to actually do something for himself, without leaning on Liam or his drugs or Jack or Locke or anyone. If he lost, things did not look good for Claire, and she was the one thing in this world he could not afford to lose, because she was all he had left. Ethan was offering him this one chance, and even though Charlie was pretty sure he was going to die whether he won or lost, he was going to try.

"All right," Charlie said, and sounded nothing like himself because his tongue was thick in his mouth and his throat was raw and dry, "let's play."

Ethan grabbed Charlie's bicep and dragged him to his feet.

"You know how to play, I hope? Guess the letters to form a word. Every wrong guess gets you closer–" Ethan shoved him hard between the shoulder blades so that he had to take a step forward, tripped over Claire's legs, and got a mouthful of dirt, "–to losing."

"Charlie," Claire whispered, so forlorn and hurt and scared and lost. Charlie wished, hard as he had ever wished or hoped or wanted anything in his life, that he wasn't so weak, wasn't such a coward, was just a little bit better of a person so that maybe Claire would be safe.

Ethan continued, pulling Charlie to his feet again and speaking right into his ear so that his breath passed over it, making Charlie cringe and shiver and feel dirty, and that had nothing to do with the mud clinging to his front. He slashed the bonds that held his wrists and told him,"And when you lose, the man–" something was put around Charlie's neck that felt horrible like a noose, "gets hung."

The point of the game became all too clear to Charlie, and apparently to Claire as well because he could hear her sobbing somewhere in the back of his mind. Despite the blindfold, he just knew that somewhere in front of his feet was the edge of a cliff. Whether he went forward over the edge or tried to bolt and escape from Ethan, his fate was sealed. The noose was around his neck, the rope was attacked to a tree somewhere above his head, and the world would soon be rid of another useless junkie.

"Ready, Charlie? I have a four letter word in mind. You get three chances for a wrong answer." Charlie knew that this was not fair, you were supposed to get more than three chances, but this was not the time to argue, not here, not with this man.

"A." Best to start with the vowels, he thought, so long as Ethan's word was in English.

"Very good. There is an A. It is the third letter," Ethan said coolly.

"E," Charlie gasped out, panic beginning to take over his body. He had a sudden craving attack, craving for the drug that had provided him with such sweet release from reality for so many years. There was none, of course, and he had to fight through it, banish the haze that threatened to take over his mind. Focusing on Claire helped, until he had an image in his head of her alone in some dark, dank cave, giving birth to a baby alone, bleeding to death, never being found, getting eaten by carnivores…

"Right again. E is the second letter," Ethan said, jarring Charlie out of his nightmare.

His mind was slowing. He fought to keep above the surface of unconsciousness, but the craving, the fear, the worry, the knowledge that he was about to die… it was all too much. Blank, E, A, blank, he thought. Charlie's mind was working frantically, feeling sluggish and dark and drawing a complete blank. Ethan's hand was on his back, ready to push, and Charlie's entire body was drenched in a cold sweat. Above all three of them, thunder warned of an impending storm.

Mead, maybe? That was a word, right? "M!" he shouted, his voice cracking pitifully like a schoolboy just beginning pitifully. A few tears rolled down his face and he sniffed loudly, trying to suck them back in so Ethan wouldn't see and wouldn't get the triumph of knowing how much he was affecting Charlie.

Ethan shoved. Charlie stumbled forward, a foot closer to his death. Who would keep Claire warm when it rained? He had to keep trying.

He could do this. For Claire.

Lead? "L!" he tried.

"Sorry," Ethan said, sounding entirely unapologetic, even gleeful, as he gave Charlie another push.

"D!" Claire shrieked. "D-E-A-D. The word is dead, Charlie!"

"D!" Charlie screamed, his voice unearthly.

"Ah, ah, ah," Ethan scolded. "Outside interference is very much against the rules. I'm afraid that's worth a penalty point, Charlie. But first… let me remove Claire's blindfold so she can watch your neck snap."

Charlie heard Claire thrashing and yelling. He heard Ethan's footsteps coming up right behind him. His splayed hand scorched an imprint onto Charlie's flesh, through his thin cotton tee shirt. He could feel Ethan's muscles bunching, preparing to push, and then actually doing it. The edge of the drop off was no more than five inches away, and then the Earth fell away from Charlie's feet and he was airborne.

In the split second before Charlie fell as far as the rope would allow, he saw everything.

First, there was a scream; maybe Claire, maybe him, maybe both of them screaming as one. Then, a woman sobbing. Ethan laughing. Liam was telling him, "Sorry, mate, tried my best to save you, you were having none of it."

The movies say that before dying, the life that has already been lived flashes before one's eyes.

Charlie did not see the past.

Before his eyes was the future.

He saw himself, standing in front of a house beneath the sunshine, a golden haired baby in his arms. Claire was beside him, and she was smiling. In the yard, a toddler that had Claire's eyes and smile and laugh was playing with Charlie's niece, and Liam was saying that dinner was ready, come in before it gets cold.

Charlie smiled as the noose began to tighten in agonizingly slow motion. He smiled because he knew that everything was going to be fine.

Then the rope went taut and everything went black, and Charlie was very, very alone with nothing but Claire's tortured screams penetrating the thick, heavy silence.

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The End.