TITLE: Just Friends
AUTHOR: Mnemosyne
Disclaimer: Not mine!
SUMMARY: Missing scene from "Homecoming." Later that night, after the end of the episode, Charlie goes to have a talk with Claire. She listens.
SPOILERS: Up to and including "Homecoming."
NOTES: Because, as ASoftGoodbye said, EVERYBODY has to write "Homecoming" fic! This story is very much a stream-of-consciousness piece, broken up at intervals to slow it down and give it a bit more rhythm. I hope you enjoy!

Claire wasn't sleeping when she felt him arrive, though she kept her eyes closed and pretended she was.

The rest of the camp was sleeping, motionless save for breathing. The gravelly sounds of Charlie's hushed footsteps echoed like gunshots in her ears.

That was a poorly chosen metaphor. Or perhaps it was apropos.

She heard him sit, felt him shuffle, sensed his eyes come to rest on her back. Thank goodness, she thought. Thank goodness he chose to sit behind her, else he might notice the tell-tale fluttering of her eyelashes that meant she was only feigning sleep.

"Are you awake?" she heard him whisper. Biting her tongue, she made no answer, careful to keep her face placid.

He was silent for a moment, and she wondered what he was doing, this strange man with the nice voice and the haunted eyes who told her they were friends. She wanted to trust him, believed the things he'd told her. But truth was truth and she'd seen him kill a man today. Kill a man to keep her safe. You didn't shoot a man six times at point blank range for someone who was just a friend.

He wasn't telling her the full story, and she was a little afraid to turn the page herself.

"I know you're probably afraid of me," he said suddenly, and Claire had to fight to keep her breath from catching at the intrusion of his voice on her silent thoughts. "I don't want you to be. You never have to be afraid of me, Claire. Remember that. It's important."

He sighed, and she heard him readjusting his position. She imagined him pulling his legs up to his chest, watching her with his chin balanced on his knees. Fetal.

"See, this is the thing," he said quietly. "I… well, there used to be this problem I had. And I still have it, sort of. It never really goes away. But it's getting better now. It is. I can sleep through the night and everything. Sometimes I get jumpy and itchy, and sometimes I just really… Well, anyway, I had this problem, right, but it's getting better, and a lot of that was because of you, Claire, and how nice you've been to me, and how much I wanted to help you. It's nice to feel wanted, you know? And I wanted to help you, and I hope I've been doing that, and I just…

"I respect you. I think that's what I'm trying to say. No, I KNOW that's what I'm trying to say. Sorry, sodding mouth got in the way. I respect you, and I care … about what you think, and how you see me, and I just want to make sure you're seeing the right me. Because I've been living this bloody big lie, you see. This huge, enormous, gargantuan lie, and I thought I'd be able to keep doing it, because I've been doing it for so long. But I couldn't. Claire, I can't lie to you. I don't know if it's because you've got those bloody great blue eyes that just rip a bloke's heart out, or if it's because I… I don't want Claire Jr. to find out his uncle Charlie's a complete toss pot. I guess I… Look, what I'm TRYING to say, Claire, is… I'm not proud, and I'm not good at explaining, but the truth is…

"I'm a junkie."

This time her breath did catch, but he kept right on talking so she knew he mustn't have noticed.

"Junkie," he continued. "Addict. Druggie. Loser. Whatever you want to call me, I was it. Did you know some people call heroin Charley? Kind of perfect, don't you think? I mean, the stuff literally had my name on it.

"I don't blame Liam. He's my brother, you see. The junk was his, but I was low and I wanted to be high, and when all's said and done, he didn't have a gun to my head-" He choked off after that last phrase, and she wondered if perhaps he didn't like saying the word gun in so glib a fashion after today.

"I used to be a good boy," he continued after a few seconds, slower than before. "Church every Sunday, confession once a week. You would have been proud to bring me home to mum and dad. But not last month you wouldn't. Not last YEAR. I was a mess with a capital M, and everything was going to get messier. I had a dealer to pay, and a habit to maintain, and my van was going to get repoed, and I LIVE in my van, and everything was going to hell in a handcart equipped with rocket propulsion and a GPS receiver. And just when I think things can't get any worse, I crash land on a bloody DESERTED ISLAND in the middle of the godforsaken south Pacific with a two weeks' supply of brown sugar, no refills. Hollywood couldn't script this, yeah? This is OSCAR WORTHY material. I demand Brad Pitt play me in the adaptation.

"So I'm starting to panic, and I'm getting worried, and I'm wondering how I'm going to make it through all this, and hoping that an eccentric billionaire on a luxury yacht stumbles over this island while he's taking a pleasure cruise around the world. And days are passing, and no billionaire, and now I'm REALLY getting worried, and-

"And then there's this really lovely girl with blue eyes and blonde hair and a big round belly, and she smiles like you wouldn't believe. She smiles like a girl in a toothpaste commercial. And the best thing is, she's STONE SOBER. So when she smiles, it's REAL. There's no dicking around with Big Harry in the back room, no needles in the arms or bits of heated tinfoil. Cor, Claire, you've got a gorgeous smile. Have I told you that before? I know you don't remember, but I should have if I haven't. Someone ought to be telling you that at least three times a day. I'll make a note to remind myself."

Claire found she was smiling now. It didn't matter that he was telling her these horrible things. Somehow he made her smile, even though she was faking sleep and knew she shouldn't.

"Look, I know you probably think I'm overprotective," he continued, his voice lower, more contemplative. "And perhaps that's true. But the fact is I've let everything else important in my life slip away. My music, my family, my religion. Through my bloody fingers like sand through the hourglass. So go the days of my life. And it's just… When I'm with you, I feel good, Claire. I feel ten feet tall. So I guess I'm a little selfish when I say I want to look after you. I don't want to wake up one day to have you gone. I've already done that, and I don't want to do it again. It killed me, Claire, when you were missing. And I'm still a little dead now that you don't know who I am."

She swallowed, guilt washing over her like a wave.

"Not that I blame you," Charlie was quick to add, as if he could read her thoughts. "I wouldn't ever blame you, Claire. You could kick me to the curb like a troublesome pup and I still wouldn't blame you. I blame that… that THING that took you. That animal who called himself Ethan as if he were a human. He was just a bloody wolf in shepherd's clothing, wasn't he. Pulled the sodding wool over our eyes like lambs to the slaughter." He laughed, a hollow, derisive laugh. "Oh, but you showed him, didn't you, Claire? You got away. Somehow you got away. Pregnant and afraid and lost in the jungle, and you STILL got away. You found your way back to us, just like I knew you could. Just like I knew you would. You're stronger than anyone gives you credit for."

She heard him chuckle, imagined him rubbing his whiskered cheek. "I suppose I'm disproving my own point now, eh? You don't need me to look after you. You can do it yourself. I just hope you won't hold it against me that I want to protect you just the same. I want to stand in front of you and take on all-comers so that you never have to. You make me want to be someone, Claire, and I haven't wanted to be anybody since my brother left the band."

He sighed, and the sound was heavy in the silent air. "I did the right thing today," he murmured, and she felt her smile fade in the black light of his tone. "But in my life it always seems like whenever I do the right thing, somehow it ends up being wrong. It gets flipped on its head, and I end up holding a sow's ear instead of a silk purse. But make no mistake, Claire - I don't regret what I did. I don't care what happens tomorrow, or what the others may say. That thing wasn't going to come near you again. I'd kill him a second time if I had to. I'll do it as many times as it takes, to make sure you're safe. I just…" His voice broke, and Claire realized with a shock that there were tears in his voice. "I just… " She listened to him take some deep, cleansing breaths before continuing.

"Claire," he whispered. "I'll take whatever this bloody world throws at me, but don't shut me out. Don't turn this into a soap opera. Don't tell me you need space, don't tell me you need time, don't tell me you're afraid of me. You don't have to tell me anything at all. Just let me sit near you, and talk to you, and hear you talk to me. I'll shoulder every sin in the testaments, so long as I have you there to watch me.

"I suppose you might have figured it out by now, but you're really not just my friend."

Silence fell, draping over Claire's body like a velvet blanket. The crackling of the watch fire flames poured into the void left by his voice, loud and invasive, and she wondered what kind of a man would beg her to be witness to his damnation. Of one thing she could be certain - all the bad men she'd known in her life had never admitted to being bad. They'd all thought they could do no wrong.

The sound of renewed movement behind her drew her out of her reverie. He was standing up - she could sense the subtle shift of the air that signaled a change in altitude.

Then, very quietly:

"I know you're awake."

She opened her eyes.

He wasn't standing, but rather he was down on his haunches, leaning forward on the balls of his feet so he could peer over her arm. "How did you know?" she murmured.

"You snore when you sleep," he said quietly, a soft smile on his lips. "Not loudly, mind you. Just a little. You were being far too quiet, luv."

Her lips curled in an embarrassed smile. "Why didn't you say anything?" she asked over her shoulder.

"I did," Charlie said, his smile broadening. "Quite a bit, actually. Didn't you hear?"

"You know what I mean," she said, blushing.

He chuckled, ducking his head with a shrug. "I think because if I'd said something, I wouldn't have said anything." When his head came back up, his eyes were more solemn, despite the faint smile that still lingered on his lips. "Do you understand?"

Claire knew he didn't mean his explanation. "Yes," she murmured.

"All of it?"

She nodded. "All of it, Charlie."

That seemed to satisfy him. Moving slowly, he stood up, towering over her and backlit by the firelight. "You should sleep now," he said quietly, an affectionate smile painting his features. "You've got to think about the little one, yeah? And yourself."

She shifted to look up at him more comfortably. "Charlie?"

"Yes, luv?"

"You're not really just my friend either, are you." It wasn't a question.

He tilted his head, considering her for a few seconds before responding. "I don't know, luv," he murmured. "You'd have to tell me."

Reaching behind her, Claire laid her hand on his foot. "It was extra smooth," she said quietly. "The best I ever tasted." She squeezed his foot through his checkerboard sneaker. "Stay?"

He did.