TITLE: The Grand Old Tradition
AUTHOR: Mnemosyne

Disclaimer: Not mine!
SUMMARY: It's Christmas on the island and Charlie wants to give a gift to Claire and the baby. In the absence of any stores, he decides to resurrect a grand old British tradition: the holiday pantomime.
RATING: PG-13
CHARACTERS: Charlie/Claire, Hurley, Shannon, Kate, and a bit of everybody
NOTES:
This was written as a backup fic for Teffy's "Snuggly OTP Ficathon," hence the reason it takes place at Christmas. It took me a while to think of what to write; my poor keyboard is in traction at the hospital because I kept whacking it with my forehead. There have been so many great Christmas stories written about Lost that I wanted to write something entirely different. This idea came to me literally out of the blue a couple of nights ago while I was laying in bed staring at the ceiling, trying to brainstorm an original idea. I had to play a bit fast and loose with the pantomime concept, since they're stranded on an island and have to make do with what they can get. It has moments of hopeless sentimentality and incredible schmaltz - I couldn't beat them away if I tried. LOL! I hope you enjoy!
DEDICATION:
To superkupos, who wanted C&C Christmas fic on the island, with a touch of Claire/Kate friendship. I would have done the gift-giving, hon, but it's been done so many times that I wanted to write you something special, especially since you had to wait so long! And this offers Charlie in drag - honestly, what more could you want? Okay, Charlie naked is a given. But what ELSE?


It was almost Christmas, and there wasn't a gift shop in sight.

Charlie had liked Christmas as a child, even into young adulthood. It was only the drug habit that killed his interest in the holiday, mainly because Father Christmas wasn't going to tuck a kilo of heroin in your stocking of a Christmas Eve and that was a fact. Besides, living in your van while you tried to knuckle together enough pennies to pay for your next fix tended to quell your holiday spirit before it even got the chance to raise its cheery head.

But he didn't have the drug habit anymore, and Christmas was still Christmas, even on a godforsaken island. As Sister Mary Bernadette would have reminded him, there are no places forsaken by God, only people who think they are. Which was just a fancy way of saying make the best with what you've got. Good advice, especially when the extent of what you had anted up to more or less nothing.

"Bollocks," he muttered, staring at the pathetic assortment of trinkets he'd managed to scavenge from the wreckage surrounding the caves. A broken strand of costume pearls, a copy of The Lovely Bones that had been torn in half and was missing everything from page 206 on, and a couple of ballpoint pens that had escaped Boone's obsessive clutches.

He was supposed to make Claire and the baby a Christmas gift from THIS?

"Bollocks, bollocks, blast and bugger it," he muttered once more in frustration, his fingers toying with one of the pens.

"Problem, Dude?"

Charlie looked up to find Hurley's amiable bulk smiling down at him. "You haven't got a teddy about you, have you, Hurl?" he asked. "The stuffed bear or the lacy type, I'm not picky."

"Uh, why would you want a teddy, Dude? Is there something you aren't telling us?"

"It's not for me, Hurl. For Claire and the baby. Or rather for Claire and/or the baby. Did you realize it's Christmas tomorrow?"

"Really?"

"Yes! And I haven't got a sodding thing to give them." He sighed and slumped over, resting his cheek on his palm and staring at the faux pearls. "It's the kid's first Christmas, mate. He should get something, don't you think? Not like there's many other reasons to celebrate in this place." A soft huffing sound made him look up again to find that Hurley was laughing. "What?"

"You've really got it bad for her, don't you?" Hurley said knowingly.

Charlie felt himself blushing. "It's called Christmas spirit, Hurley," he said, thankful he had a beard to hide his flaming cheeks.

"Yeah, you've got it bad." Flopping down on the ground next to him, Hurley picked up the eviscerated book. "This'll go over well. A book about a murdered girl and you don't even get to know the ending. Very Christmasy"

Charlie snatched it back from him and put it out of reach. "Look, just sod off if you're not going to be helpful, all right?" he snapped. "I'm busy."

Hurley raised his hands defensively. "Whoa, dude. Tone down the angry. You're gonna give yourself a hernia."

Charlie sighed, feeling himself deflate. "Sorry, mate," he apologized, and meant it. "It's just, it's been a while since I've really wanted to give anyone anything. It's hard when you've got the desire but not the means."

Hurley shrugged. "Dude, not to sound trite and stuff, but it's the thought that counts, right? Besides, what's she going to do with fake jewelry? Not like there's anywhere to wear it that anyone'll notice. You should give her something more special than that."

"Like what?"

"I dunno. A song or something."

Songs were Charlie's personal paradigm. They were how he saw the world and how he told the world how he saw it. They were also bloody hard to write anymore without the drugs, and he only had a day. "Anything else?" he asked.

"Why don't you write her a storybook for the kid or something," Hurley suggested. "Nothing special. Maybe like rewrite a fairytale or something, so she can read it to the baby like a bedtime story."

"Hmmm…" That had possibilities. He was a bit of a layman artist, and could draw fairly well when occasion called for it. But it seemed a bit cheap to just rewrite something someone had already thought of hundreds of years ago. If he was going to do it, it had to have his own personal stamp on it. Besides, he wanted this gift to be as much for Claire as for the baby. She could probably recite Cinderella from memory without him writing it down for her and wasting the paper.

Hang on…

His eyes widened, and he turned to Hurley with a huge, goofy grin beginning to form on his face. "Hurley, you brilliant bastard!" he enthused, jumping to his feet. "Come on, you've got to help me!"

"Whoa, dude," Hurley said as Charlie tried to tug him to his feet. "First you tell me what I'm helping you with, THEN we'll talk."

"It's nothing! Just a play! Come on, mate, you can't back out on me now. This is too important!"

"Dude, how would I be backing out on you when I don't even remember volunteering?"

"Christmas spirit, Hurley, Christmas spirit!"

When the bigger man sighed, Charlie knew he'd won. "Fine," Hurley relented, pushing onto his feet. "But if this starts to turn into The Full Monty, I'm so out of here."

-

"Dude, you said this was just a play. You never said I had to wear a dress!"

"It's not a dress, Hurley, it's a grass skirt. People in Hawaii and tropical vacation promotions wear them all the time. Besides, it's not going to be for long."

"Not for long is still longer than it was when you told me it was just a play."

Charlie sighed and looked up from where he was fashioning a rudimentary grass skirt out of palm fronds and vines. "It's called a pantomime, Hurl," he explained. "A grand old British holiday tradition."

"Dude, I don't do mime."

"No, not mime. Pantomime. It's an over-the-top stage play. Lots of grown men and women dithering about on stage making crude jokes and having a good time. My mum and dad used to take Liam and me every year to see Aladdin at the amateur theater down the street from our flat. You Americans don't know the first thing about it, but I'm telling you, Claire and the little bit will love it!"

"The little bit is barely a month old, dude, and I am not wearing a dress."

Charlie stood up, holding out his handiwork so he could examine the end product. Not bad for twenty minutes work. "It's all part of the act, Hurl," he assured the other man, holding the skirt to his friend's midriff to see how it looked. "There has to be drag involved."

"Fine, then YOU wear the dress. Cut that out!" He swatted Charlie's hand away as the rock star tried tucking the grass skirt under his friend's shirt for effect. "Why do I have to be the one in drag?"

"If it makes you feel any better, I am going to wear a dress," Charlie said, draping the skirt over his shoulder and making some calculations in his head. "I get to be the lead."

"Really? Who's that?"

"Little Red Riding Hood."

He waited for Hurley to stop laughing before continuing.

"Look, we're a bit short on talent on this island, all right?" he said a good five minutes later. "I've got to work with what we have. Which works out, more or less, to you and me. Maybe one or two others if I play my cards right. Little Red Riding Hood has the girl, her grandmother, a wolf and a woodcutter. Easy peasy."

"Dude, there's only two of us."

"I know. You'll have to play multiple parts."

"Charlie, man, I get screwed up on the Happy Birthday song. How am I supposed to memorize lines for more than one part?"

"You play video games, right?"

"Yeah."

"Well that's just memorization, right? Left, left, right. Hit the ogre with the stick. Up, up, down, down, left, right, power up. If you can do that, you can do this. Besides, it's just Little Red Riding Hood, not bloody Hamlet. We can wing it."

Hurley frowned. "Hang on, I'm going to be the grandmother, the wolf, AND the woodcutter? Doesn't that sort of mean I have to whack myself? Twice?"

Charlie clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, mate, I have it all figured out," he said with assurance. Pressing the grass skirt into Hurley's hands, he stepped back. "You work on your costume, I'm going to go put together mine. We'll meet after dinner to work out a script."

"May I go on the record right now, dude, as saying there's no way this can end well?"

"You've got to have faith, Hurl. Faith!" And with a confident spring in his step, he set out for the beach.

-

"No way."

"Shannon, please?"

"Are you kidding me? Do you know how precious that stuff is? It's not like there's a store around the corner where I can buy more."

"It's for Christmas, Shannon. Be a brick and give us a hand. What good's it going to do you here?"

Charlie was an expert at the "winsome smile." He'd perfected it on his Grammy Pace, and used it to great effect ever since. He was able to communicate an aura of utter innocence and all-encompassing goodwill with the merest cock of his head and twitch of his lips. It had never failed him.

That is, until it came to Shannon Rutherford. It was like he was in a car that had been traveling merrily down a long, winding road, only to discover there was a brick wall at the end and the car had no brakes. SMACK! Pancake time.

She was stretched out on a towel on the beach, sunning herself as she was wont to do. Charlie liked Shannon - he really did. She'd been nothing but helpful to Claire in terms of helping with the baby and being an all-around gal pal.

But she could still be a royal bitch sometimes.

"Do you know how much those cosmetics cost me?" she asked, peering up at him through her sunglasses. "I'm going to make them last. That doesn't include smearing them all over your face in a feeble attempt for you to get into Claire's pants."

Charlie gave her an affronted look. "It isn't a feeble attempt!" he argued, then corrected himself. "I mean, it's not an attempt period! Feeble or otherwise! Honestly, Shannon, I just want to give them a Christmas gift. You can understand that, right?"

Shannon tugged her sunglasses down her nose to stare at him over the frames. "And seeing you in coral red lipstick is somehow supposed to be a gift?" she asked sarcastically.

"Shannon…"

She exhaled heavily. "FINE," she said, pushing her glasses back in place. "But you'll have to shave the beard."

Charlie's momentary jubilation was cut short by that last bit. "I can't," he said, rubbing his beard protectively. "It's part of the act."

"Aren't you supposed to be playing a little girl?"

"Well, yes. But that's part of the effect, you see. I'm playing a little girl, but you're supposed to KNOW I'm a man."

Shannon's mirrored glasses peered up at him. "Do they put lead in your water in England?" she asked after a moment.

"Will you please just help me?"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Now can you move? You're in my sun."

A few seconds passed.

"Charlie?"

"Yep."

"Why haven't you moved?"

He shuffled his feet. "Well… You see… I'm playing Little Red Riding Hood, right? But… I don't actually HAVE anything red… or girly, for that matter…"

Shannon groaned and pushed herself up onto her elbows. "You're going to ask if you can borrow one of my dresses now, aren't you?" she said, interrupting him

"Well…"

"Oh, for God's sake, why couldn't you work out your little transvestite tendencies on Kate or someone?" With a huff she pushed herself to her feet, pausing only long enough to pick up her towel. "Carry this," she said, dropping it in his arms. "Follow me." She started walking towards the jungle.

"Where are we going?" Charlie asked, hurrying after her, his feet slipping in the hot sand.

"Duh, to look at clothes."

"Right."

"Seriously, if we ever get off this island, you might want to look into that lead in the water thing. Just a thought."

-

"Tomorrow's Christmas, little one," Claire murmured to the baby at her breast, stroking her finger over the infant's brow as she fed him his supper. "Normally people would be showering you with big, shiny toys with bright, bouncy bows and lots of loud, crinkly wrapping paper." She smiled and bent her head to kiss his cheek, giggling at the gurgling sound of his mouth. "I'm sorry you don't get to have all that fun. We'll have to think of something to mark the occasion, won't we? Mummy will think of something."

She sat up again, feeling all maternal and cozy. If she'd been a bird, she would have been feathering her nest. The adoption office seemed millions of miles away. Maybe it was. All Claire knew was the little life in her arms meant more to her now than Thomas ever had. Odd that something so precious could come from someone so odious. One of life's enduring enigmas.

"Oops," she said with a smile as the little boy's mouth fell away from her breast. His eyes were closed and his breathing was even. "Full and sleepy, hmm? I know how that is. You men are all the same." She giggled and nuzzled his forehead, careful not to wake him. "That's okay. We'll talk more later."

"Am I interrupting?"

Claire looked over her shoulder and smiled at Kate, who was hovering near the entrance to her little nook. "Nope," she assured the older woman, carefully pulling her shirt back into place. "He's just drifted off to sleep. Can I help you?"

Kate smiled and moved in to kneel next to her. "I thought you might be hungry," she said, laying out the simple dinner she'd brought with her. "Sun made some kind of berry glaze for the boar. It makes it taste pretty festive."

Claire grinned as she picked up a piece of the meat. "You remembered, too, then?" she asked, nibbling on the pork. Kate was right - if you didn't pay attention to the fact that it was three-day old boar meat, you could believe it was three-day old lamb with mint jelly. If you REALLY used your imagination.

"That it's Christmas tomorrow?" Kate nodded, turning around so she could press her back against the cave wall and face Claire. "Yeah." She smiled, that weary, faraway smile that reminded Claire that Kate had as much drama in her history as Claire had in her own. Perhaps more. "I never did much in terms of family get-togethers and gift giving, but I liked the aura of Christmas. It always made me feel good."

Claire smiled at her. "It can still make you feel good," she said, gently rocking the little boy in her arms. "Christmas is Christmas wherever you are, right?"

"I suppose it is," Kate agreed with a twinkle in her eye. That made Claire feel happy. It wasn't often Kate's eyes twinkled, unless she was talking to Jack. Or Sawyer.

"I just wish little Christian here could meet Santa Claus," she said wistfully, looking down at her son. "He would enjoy that, I think. The bright red suit and the surfboard." She laughed softly, meeting Kate's eyes again. "Charlie says it's unnatural having Santa arrive on a surfboard. He said Father Christmas should never wear a wetsuit.'"

Kate joined in her laughter. Claire grinned.

"You really like him, don't you?" Kate said after a minute, her eyes and smile soft.

"Who?" Claire asked, feeling herself blush.

"Charlie," Kate teased gently. "I know you knew I meant him."

Claire bit her lip, looking back down at Christian. "I do," she admitted, tucking an errant lock of hair behind her ear. "I can't help myself. He's so sweet." She giggled, feeling herself blush darker. "I feel like a sixteen-year old."

"That's what happens when you fall in love," Kate said knowingly.

"I never said I was in love with him," Claire hurried to correct her, but the look on Kate's face made her stop. "Is it that obvious?"

"It's not a bad thing, Claire," Kate said with a laugh at her crestfallen face. "It's refreshing. There's so much doom and gloom on this island. It's nice for everyone to see two people who are so happy just to be with each other. It's more than a lot of us have."

Claire bit her lip and looked away, trying to fight the smile that threatened to break free. Eventually Kate would sort out her own love life. Until then, it didn't feel right for Claire to turn to mush in front of the other woman because of her own romantic situation.

"What are you going to give him for Christmas?"

"Hmm?" Claire looked up again.

Kate nodded to the cave entrance. "Charlie. Are you going to give him anything?"

Claire looked over her shoulder. Charlie was just arriving at the primary campfire, talking animatedly with Hurley, who seemed to be taking in what the rock star was saying in his usual easy-going manner. On cue, Claire felt her heart skip a beat as she watched the young man's enthusiastic movement. Charlie could go from moments of manic frenzy to deep introspection seemingly in the blink of an eye. He was layered, to put it in the simplest of terms. It made her want to peel back all the different skins he seemed to wear to find the one, true Charlie somewhere underneath. She didn't know if it would ever happen, but the investigation would no doubt be as fascinating as the ultimate discovery.

"I don't know," she murmured, watching him as he started scribbling something in a notebook, with Hurley offering suggestions. "I want to, but what could I give him?"

"You could tell him how you feel," Kate suggested quietly.

Claire spun her head around, eyes wide. "No…!" she yelped, covering her mouth to muffle the sound. "I mean, no, I can't! What if he doesn't feel the same? Oh God, that would be humiliating!"

Kate grinned and patted her arm. "Think about it," she said conspiratorially, getting to her feet. "He might just surprise you."

Claire watched her go, then let her eyes fall back to the rock star at the campfire. He must have felt someone watching him because after a minute he looked up and met her eyes across the camp. He gave her a wave and a bright smile, which Claire returned.

"Maybe, little one," she murmured to the sleeping baby in her arms, watching as Charlie hunched back over the notebook on his lap. "Maybe."

-

The next day dawned bright and clear, but it always did that in paradise. Still, there was something in the air that felt different than usual. Claire could feel it as she walked through the camp, coming back from her morning bath with Christian. There was a low-grade hum of conversation, and people seemed to be milling more than usual. There wasn't much else to do but mill on the island, unless you were willing to take your life in your hands and go for a walk. But this milling seemed more animated somehow. Frowning with curiosity, Claire caught sight of Shannon a few meters away and headed in the other young woman's direction.

"What's going on?" she asked, coming up behind Shannon and tapping her on the shoulder.

"GAH!" Shannon gasped, putting a hand on her heart and turning around. "You scared me!"

"Sorry," Claire said, blushing. "But what's going on? Are we expecting visitors or something?"

"Or something," Shannon hedged. "Look, it's a good thing I found you. You're supposed to come with me."

"Come where?" Claire asked, confused, as Shannon took her elbow and started to pull her through the camp.

"A cotillion. Where do you think? I can't tell you, it'll ruin the surprise."

"Surprise…" Claire let her voice trail off. She had no idea what was going on, but since Shannon didn't seem to be frothing at the mouth, she figured it wasn't rabies. Best to just let the leggy blonde take her wherever they were going and sort it all out from there.

The where turned out to be a log near the edge of camp. It had been softened up with blankets and seat cushions to make a sort of bench. It looked quite comfortable.

"Sit," Shannon instructed as they came to a stop.

Claire looked at the bench, then at Shannon. "What, here?"

"Yes. You're the guest of honor, so you get the best seat in the house."

"Guest of honor?" She let Shannon take her by the shoulders and maneuver her onto the seat. It was quite comfortable, just like she'd thought. "For what?"

"That's the surprise!" Shannon said, and grinned. "You just stay here and don't move, or Vincent will steal your seat. He already tried once. Walt had to take him away to play fetch."

"But!" Claire tried to ask what the hell was going on, but Shannon had already turned on her heel and was halfway across the camp before she could even begin to form a sentence.

Looking down at Christian, who was moving gently in her arms, Claire asked, "Well, sweetheart, what do you suppose all this is about?" Christian gurgled, pressing one small fist against his cheek. Claire giggled. "Mummy promised she'd think of something to do for Christmas. I guess she was right, hmm? Only Mummy's not the one doing the doing!"

The seat was a welcome relief to her sore back, which still hadn't recovered from nine months of pregnancy throwing it out of whack, so Claire let herself relax and take in her surroundings. An area in front of the makeshift bench had been cleared of brush and extraneous rocks, to make a relatively flat, empty space roughly the size of her bedroom back in Australia. There was a bamboo screen to one side, across from a pile of branches on the other. They looked like they were meant for something, she just couldn't begin to imagine what.

After a while, other people began filing into the area around her seat. She smiled at Boone as he took a seat next to her. "Hello, Boone," she said. "Happy Christmas."

"Same to you two," he said with a smile.

"I don't suppose you know what's going on, do you?"

"Nope. Shannon just told me I needed to be in the front row."

"Front row?"

"I think it's some kind of play."

"Huh…" Claire turned back to the stage, as she now recognized it to be. "A play. Interesting."

Within a few minutes, the entirety of the camp had gathered around the makeshift stage. Claire kept swiveling her head around, trying to find Charlie in the crowd. There was Jack, just behind Kate, and Michael with Walt, even Jin and Sun. But no Charlie.

She frowned. Where was he?

A hush fell over the crowd, and when Claire looked back to the front, she saw that Hurley was emerging from the trees to the left of the stage, behind the pile of branches. He was clutching a sheet of paper in a white-knuckled fist, and looked ready to keel over from nerves. Claire beamed at him as he came to a stop at the center of the stage, hoping to put him at ease.

"Uh, hello, everyone," he said with a robotic wave, as if he'd practiced it in a mirror a hundred times to get the proper angle in his elbow. Clearing his throat, he raised the sheet of paper and began to read.

"In the grand old tradition of British theater," he read off jerkily, "we present the annual holiday pantomime. Pause for applause. Oh, crap." He looked at the audience. "Uh, could you…"

A round of applause and laughter rippled through the assembled crowd.

"Cool. Okay, where was… Right." He cleared his throat again and continued. "It is our pleasure to present to you, the assembled. Audience the endearing tale of one Little Red Riding Hood our story. Begins - crap, dude, your handwriting sucks!" he shouted over his shoulder at the bamboo screen.

"Just shut up and finish reading!" Charlie's voice answered back, and Claire felt her heart leap in her chest at the voice. She was the guest of honor for this? Charlie had done all this for HER?

"Dude, next time use LETTERS, not chicken scratch!" Hurley called back, before turning back to the audience. "Sorry. Anyway, lemme finish." He raised the paper again. "Our story begins in a beautiful wood. The amiable Miss Riding Hood is on her way to visit her grandmother with a basket of muffins. PS, there will be no sexual innuendo in this pantomime as the actor playing the wolf is a humorless git." Hurley paused, as if mulling that over, then called over his shoulder, "Dude, I am going to bust your ass as soon as this is over!"

"Get ready for your entrance!"

"I mean it, dude!" Hurley turned back to the audience, made a quick bow, and scurried offstage.

A moment passed, then Charlie came skipping out from behind the screen.

And the house came down.

Claire didn't know WHERE he'd gotten the red satin party dress with the empire waist and cap sleeves, but she could only assume Shannon. It came to his knees, showing off his nicely muscled - if hairy - calves, and bare feet with toenails painted red. His fingernails were painted to match and clutched the nearest thing to a basket on the island, which was a small carry-on duffel bag. His hair was held back by a red bandana, though two perfectly coiffed tresses framed either side of his face. His lips were the most obnoxious shade of red, and looked absolutely hysterical set against his brown, bristly beard. Heavy blue eye shadow combined with thick black mascara and eyeliner were enough to complete the effect, but the dangling clip-on pearl earrings were icing on the cake.

Claire hadn't laughed that hard - or that honestly - in years. Judging by the reaction of the rest of the crowd, she wasn't alone.

"Me oh my," Charlie said in a high-pitched, effeminate voice once the laughter had reached a manageable level. "To grandmother's house I go! Skipping, skipping, skipping away! Skip, skip, skip." He skipped merrily across the stage, then doubled back to continue in the opposite direction. "My, won't grandmother enjoy these muffins! I made them extra sweet! Extra sweet for a sour old bitch, that's what mummy says. I don't know what she means, though. Grandma doesn't have a dog!"

The audience erupted in laughter again, and Claire joined in, tears of mirth spilling down her cheeks. Looking down, she saw that Christian's eyes were open and he was looking around, as if trying to figure out what all the noise was about. "Oh… Oh, little one…!" she gasped, kissing his cheek. "You'll understand when you're older…!"

She thought about bringing her mother sweet muffins, and laughed all the harder.

-

The performance was going swimmingly. The audience was into it, neither of them had forgotten their lines, and except for a minor debacle when Hurley's skirt - which he was wearing over his jeans, thank God - had gotten caught on a branch and nearly ripped off, there hadn't been any problems. It was getting on toward the finale now, and Charlie dared a glance at the audience. Claire's face was alight with laughter, enthralled with the spectacle. Charlie felt his pulse speed up at the sight. THIS was why he'd done it. To make her smile. It all made sense if you looked at it like that.

"My, grandmother, what big EYES you have," he said, clutching his "basket of muffins" tight against his chest as he turned his attention back to Hurley, who was sprawled out on the makeshift "bed" they'd created from a pile of palm leaves. He held out an arm to the audience.

"The better to see you, my dear!" they chorused back en masse, and he thought he heard Claire's voice clearest of all.

"And grandmother, what big EARS you have!" he squealed, shrinking back even further. Hurley had liked this bit of the show, because he didn't have to memorize anything. The audience participation did it all.

"The better to hear you, my dear!"

"And GRANDMOTHER! What big TEETH you have!"

"The better to EAT YOU, my dear!"

"GARRRRRRRR!" Hurley snarled, leaping off the bed and crouching in front of him, fingers formed into claws. The only other aspect of his wolf costume was a pair of Halloween bunny ears Shannon had scrounged from the wreckage. Presumably because Halloween was just around the corner before the crash. Best not to dwell on that, though. Best to live in the now. And the now meant he had a line. Bollocks, what was it?

"GRANDMOTHER!" he shrieked, dropping the bag and covering his face in horror. "You really ARE a bitch!"

"I'm gonna getcha!" Hurley growled.

"Help!" Charlie yelped, and started to run. "Help, help!"

They spent the next minute or so chasing each other in circles around the tiny stage. The audience laughed and applauded and shouted encouragement to the actors.

No, go left! He's behind the screen!

Right, right! Go RIGHT!

"LOOK OUT!" Claire squealed at one point as Charlie came to a panting standstill at the center of the stage. "He's behind you!"

Charlie's eyes widened. "Oh no!" he squeaked, and ducked just before Hurley's burly arms crushed him from behind.

"Here I come to save the day!" a new voice chimed from behind the screen, and out burst the Woodsman.

"SHANNON?" Boone exclaimed in shock.

And it was. At least, under all the clothes it was. Her hair was tucked up under a baseball cap and she was wearing a flannel shirt that was stuffed with other clothes to make it appear that she had bulging muscles. She'd drawn stubble all over her face in eyeliner pencil to give herself the appearance of having a beard. She was wearing a pair of jeans that looked two sizes too big for her, cinched at the waist by a belt with an enormous buckle. A pair of hiking boots and a big stick - presumably to imitate an axe so nobody had a limb cut off - finished off the effect.

"What's going on here?" Shannon boomed in a deep, manly voice.

"My grandmother's trying to eat me!" Charlie squeaked, still crouching near the ground.

"Kid, I've got news for you," Shannon said, striding manfully into the room, pelvis first. "That's not your grandmother. That's a wolf!"

"NO!"

"Yes."

"No, she isn't!"

"Yes, she is."

"She isn't!"

"She is!"

"She isn't!"

"She IS!" the audience hollered along with Shannon.

Charlie raised his head, inspecting Hurley's face closely. Hurley, meanwhile, was looking innocently around. "You know, I DID think she looked hairier than usual," Charlie mused. "I didn't want to comment, you know, but…"

"You're one to talk," Hurley muttered.

"Away with you, Wolf!" Shannon bellowed, menacingly waving the "axe."

"Hey, watch it with that thing!" Hurley growled, leaping back. "You'll take someone's head off!"

"That's the idea. Hiya!"

"Fine! She's not worth it anyway." Sulking, Hurley stomped toward the bamboo screen. Shannon caught him a glancing blow on his backside with the stick, making him yelp and scamper offstage.

"My hero!" Charlie enthused, grabbing Shannon's hand and pressing it to his cheek. "How can I ever repay you!"

"You could try one thing."

"What?"

"Shave."

Hurley, sans skirt, came bounding back onstage. "The end!" he shouted, with a flourishing bow.

The audience erupted with applause. Those who were seated got to their feet for a standing ovation. It wasn't Shakespeare, but it didn't have to be. For twenty minutes, everyone on the island had been able to laugh: really laugh. There was no greater Christmas gift than that.

"Thank you, thank you!" Charlie said, drinking in the audience approval. It wasn't Wembley Stadium, but it was damn close. Just a bit draftier round the nether regions. "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night! Day! Afternoon! Whatever time of day it is!"

There was more laughter from the crowd, as they spilled over onto the stage to congratulate the actors. Charlie shook hands with them, thanked them for their compliments, and told them he got his fashion sense from Shannon. All the while, his eyes searched the crowd for the one person he most wanted to see.

Eventually, the seething sea of humanity parted, and there they were.

She was glowing. New mothers always had a glow about them, but she was truly radiant. A tremulous smile was on her lips, and her blue eyes were bright with tears. Christian was cuddled close to her chest. "Hello, Charlie," she said with a shaky smile.

"Luv." He felt suddenly foolish, standing there in a red dress and gobs of makeup.

She took a step towards him, so they were a hand's breadth apart. "Shannon said I was the guest of honor," she murmured. "Did you do this for me?"

He blushed. "Well, yeah. You and Christian, that is," he added hurriedly. "I thought the little guy deserved some holiday cheer." He bit his lip, and decided lipstick didn't taste anywhere near as good on his own mouth as it did on someone else's. "Did it work?" He couldn't quite gauge her mood; whether the tears were happy ones, or disappointed.

A brilliant smile spread across her face. "My hero," she said, beaming at him. "How can I ever repay you?"

Charlie felt his blush darken even further, and ducked his head self-consciously. "You don't have to do any-" he began, but couldn't finish because her mouth was suddenly on his and she was kissing him and Hail Mary, hallelujah, Christmas truly was a time of miracles.

He didn't know how long the kiss went on, but when it finally ended, he kept his eyes closed as he let the memory of her lips graft itself into his long-term memory. Maybe tomorrow he'd wake up and find this had all been a dream. If he did, he wanted to make sure it still felt as real as it did right now.

"Charlie," he heard her murmur near his mouth.

"Mm?"

"I love you."

His eyes drifted open. She was smiling at him, and for all the people milling around them, they felt all alone.

"I love you, too," he heard himself say. It wasn't hard at all. Why did people always act like it was?

She grinned. "I know," she told him. "There's not many men who would dress in drag to impress a girl unless he really liked them."

Charlie chuckled and shrugged. "Well, for you and the little bit," he reminded her. "Let's not leave him out of the equation."

Claire's grin widened. "Speaking of that, here." She held the little baby out for him to take.

Charlie furrowed his brow but gently took the child from her arms. "What's this?" he asked.

"Well, it's Christmas," she said. "You've got the beard," she tugged at his scruffy bristles. "And you're dressed in red." She gestured to the dress. "There's no surfboard or reindeer to be seen, but I think we can make do, don't you?"

Charlie laughed. "Trading off the wetsuit in favor of a dress and mascara, eh?" he asked.

"Every child should get to meet Santa at Christmas," she said with a solemn nod. "Go ahead, ask him what he wants."

"Luv, he's barely a month old."

Her eyes sparkled. "I know. Ask him anyway."

Charlie cocked his head, eyeing her suspiciously, then looked down into Christian's face. The boy's eyes were open and he was looking around, absorbing the surroundings. Alert blue eyes, so much like his mother's it made Charlie's heart ache.

"Well then, little guy," he said, in his best Santa voice. "What do you wish for this Christmas?"

Claire got up on her tiptoes and leaned over to press her lips to his ear.

"A daddy," she whispered.

Like she'd flicked a switch in his brain, tears sprang to his eyes. Turning his head as she set herself back on her feet, Charlie gazed into her eyes. She reached up to cup his cheek, smiling, tears in her own eyes. "Your mascara's going to run," she murmured, giggling shakily.

He shook his head, not caring. "Come here," he said huskily. Claire moved in, snuggling against his side. He balanced Christian carefully in the crook of one arm, wrapping the other one around her waist as he kissed the top of her head.

"Wish granted," he whispered into her hair.

THE END