What the island wants, it will take, no matter how impossible the odds.
Spoilers through Outlaws.
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.
Charlie lets Claire pick their path as they walk and doesn't pay attention to where his feet are carrying him. There is a quiet serenity over the island, as though some sort of truce has been called for just this brief moment. Even the white-hot glare of the sun is somehow more bearable as Charlie squints at Claire and wonders how she can manage to have a smile on her face in the midst of so much uncertainty.
"So your memory's coming back?" Charlie asks to start the conversation.
"Bit by bit. I still don't remember the crash, and most of the memories are all jumbled up. I remember…" Claire pauses as she tries to piece together her dreams. "You sat with me in a tent when I wasn't feeling well. There was some to do about the water?"
Charlie rubs his beard and gives her a half-smile. "Gave us a right scare that day, Claire. Dr. Jack wasn't around so I got to play nurse for a few hours until we found the water again."
"Thank you, Charlie," she says softly, and means it. Her small, smooth hand reaches for his calloused one and squeezes it gently, eliciting a grin from him. They walk for a few moments in silence, listening to the soothing sound of the waves breaking on the beach and the distant calls of wild birds.
Charlie thinks her lucky for being able to look at the jungle without fear, as her mind has not yet remembered the sounds of trees being splintered beneath giant feet. She never saw the pilot's mangled body and was never chased through the jungle by some huge, unseen monster. To her this is still a paradise, the only evils being manmade.
"What's this?" Claire gestures to a patch of earth that has been recently turned up. Charlie's breath catches and she glances at him curiously. Without realizing it, he's let her lead them straight to Ethan's burial sight.
When the job was finally done, he and Hurley had piled the dirt back on top of Ethan's shrouded body and patted it smooth with their makeshift shovels, putting a pile of stones on top by way of marking it. Charlie had been hesitant to put the sign of God, as they had for Steve, over the grave of a demon.
Now, Charlie is staring at the gravesite in horror. The earth is no longer level and the stones have been scattered. It's been churned up by something, or (and Charlie hates to even think it) by someone.
"Charlie, something wrong?" Claire asks, slightly fearfully.
Charlie doesn't respond as he kneels beside the grave and begins to dig through the earth with his bare hands. He's afraid of touching Ethan's body, afraid of forcing Claire to see it, but he's more afraid of it not being there. Something deep within his soul tells him it's the latter he needs to fear most.
There's a murmur on the sudden breeze that makes Charlie stop and look up at the trees that surround him. Sure he imagined it, he continues digging, running his hands through the moist earth in the hope, as well as dread, that he will find the body.
The wind ruffles Charlie's hair. A hundred voices whisper secrets in his ears and he can't make out the words.
"Charlie," Claire whispers, voice soft and faraway. "Did you hear something just now?"
"Just the wind, love," Charlie answers tightly. Out of the corner of his eye he sees her come to stand at the edge of the grave and he feels her eyes on him as he scoops out armfuls of dirt. His pace has become frantic as he nears the bottom and still has not met anything larger than a stone.
"Charlie, was this a grave?" Claire asks somberly.
Hesitating only an instant, Charlie nods jerkily and mutters, "Ethan's."
"He's… he's not there, is he?"
Charlie wants to tell her she's wrong, wants to offer up visual evidence, only he's hit rock bottom and has nothing to show for it. Ethan's body is gone. Not even the blanket he was wrapped in is left.
As much as he tries to tell himself that it was probably just an animal that caught wind of his scent and made a snack of him, Charlie's gut tells him that a more sinister force is at work here. Quickly rising, he reaches for Claire's hand.
"We need to go back to the caves, Claire. I need to tell Jack, or Locke, or someone that…" Charlie breaks off as the whispers return.
"Charlie, what is this place?" Claire asks, on the verge of tears. "I don't understand what's going on."
It's quite clear that the truce is over. The island is angry; Charlie can feel it in the wind. It needs appeasement, and Charlie is only too sure about what that may entail.
"I don't think anyone does, love. Stay close to me, Claire. I promise I won't let anything happen to you." Charlie tries to smile reassuringly. He isn't very successful. They turn around, their backs on the empty grave, and start to walk.
A shadow falls across their path. Claire screams and Charlie instinctively puts his arm around her.
"Well, Charlie, I suppose we're even now. I killed you once and you came back. Then you killed me and now… it's rather ironic, isn't it?" Ethan looks animalistic as he stands in front of them, smudged with mud and crisscrossed with scratches. His voice is a snarl and he eyes his prey with a hungry eye.
It's impossible. Charlie watched Ethan die. His fingers still twitch in remembrance of the trigger and his mind won't let go of the image of those bullets entering Ethan's body, one by one. He saw the man fall and watched his blood soak through his shirt. Yet here is he, looking as solid as Charlie himself, and there is no blood on this Ethan's shirt.
Charlie remembers Ethan's vow.
"And Charlie, I'll kill you last."
As he looks into Ethan's eyes, he decides that he will not allow Ethan to keep his word. If anyone is to die, it will be Charlie, first and last.
"Run, Claire," he murmurs into her ear. She glances at him, eyes wild with fear, and shakes her head.
"Can't leave you," she whispers, and her voice is tight with panic.
"I've come for Claire," Ethan says in a low voice. He takes one step towards the couple, his eyes trained on the blonde. His fists are clenched tightly at his sides and there is lust in his look; bloodlust, Charlie thinks.
"Get help, Claire, please!" Charlie steps in front of her, using his body as a shield against Ethan's gaze. Her hand finds his, squeezes it once, and he hears her footsteps patter away in the sand. Ethan takes a step, lunging for her, and finds Charlie in his way.
Charlie murmurs a quick prayer, begging the Father to lend him strength, as he wraps his hands around Ethan's neck.
"You're too weak," Ethan wheezes. He lets Charlie squeeze and lets Charlie think he's winning for a split second before kicking out his legs and pinning him to the ground. "I believe I've changed my mind, Charlie. I'm rather sick of you. Why wait to kill you last?"
Claire fights the urge to turn around and look at Ethan and Charlie as she runs as fast as her swollen feet will carry her towards the beach camp. The wind follows her, daring her to race it, and those eerie voices are whispering awful secrets.
There is the sound of a body hitting the ground, louder than it should have been. Claire winces and increases her speed as the voices tell her that she'll never make it.
Fists are pounding out a staccato beat against a helpless body.
The camp is within sight. Claire tries to yell and scream for help but that wicked wind steals her words and carries them away.
"You couldn't protect her," Ethan sneers at Charlie's bloodied, bruised face.
Claire can hear the sound of Charlie's hands clawing at the ones that are wrapped around his throat.
There is one last strangled cry that the wind brings for her to hear.
And then all falls silent.