Summary: Sometimes memories can be distorted. Shameless angst followed by shameless fluff. With a wee bit of desperate sex thrown in for good measure. :) Spoilers through "…in Translation". Charlie/Claire of course, with mentions of Jin, Shannon, and the others. But not really The Others. ;)
Dedication: For K. because after all this time (years!) I think we know angsty fluff is the best kind. Here's to endless hovering and, even though you'll probably never read this, here's to you. Happy birthday!
Disclaimer: One day I will own you. Probably not, but evil giggles all the same.
In all my dreams, dear, you seem to leave me
When I awake my poor heart pains.
So when you come back and make me happy
I'll forgive you dear, I'll take all the blame.
"You Are My Sunshine"
Claire doesn't speak to him anymore.
Charlie knows he should have expected this; shouldn't have been so blindsided by the horrible and ugly truth. He counts himself lucky that, even after watching him gun down Ethan in what was to her an inexplicable display of violence, she gave him a few weeks of absolute heaven. Alone now, he can still walk along the beach with a backdrop of the setting sun and the warmth of her giggles over and over in his mind. It's all that he has left.
Charlie's heart has broken before. Never by a woman, mind, or at least directly. He finds it worse this way. Sometimes he wishes bitterly that he had never met her, but only for the briefest of seconds. He tries to feel thankful for what he had but every time he closes his eyes her warm smile turns cold and she's telling him the unthinkable. Leave, Charlie. Just go. I don't want you here. I don't want you.
He hadn't gone, of course. He had hung around, hoping to hell that it was just a mood. That one day, she would glance up from feeding Levi and just grin at him, wide and so very open, just like she used to. He had tried talking to her; had tried reasoning with her, and when all else failed he had openly begged. It would have been easier if she would have pitched a fit, but she hadn't. She had simply shunned him, quietly, coldly, and with a calculation he didn't think existed in her.
He had stuck it out for two weeks before moving his things back to the beach, near Jin's. He likes to think of the spot as their very own bachelor pad but he mainly likes that Jin is silent. He doesn't think he could stand to be around happiness.
It comes to him through the grapevine that Claire has her memory back. Naturally, his first instinct is to rush up to the caves, imaginary peanut butter in hand. He tries to make sense of it with this new information but it takes him days before the fog clears enough for anything to make sense at all.
When he realizes she blames him for Ethan, he is too ashamed to want to say anything to her at all.
The baby becomes his reason for living. Claire of course won't let Charlie near him but Shannon will. Every day when she comes to "give Claire a break", she smuggles him to the beach and lets Charlie hold onto a little bit of sunshine.
Whether Claire allows him to be a part of raising Levi or not, Charlie has loved him since the moment he saw him. He knows he shouldn't, or at least not as much. It's never far from his mind that Levi is in no way his to cherish but there's something about the way his little face crinkles just before he yawns that Charlie can't get over. He has never spent time with a baby before, so he's pleasantly surprised when he's just good at it. Shannon tells him daily that Levi is a terror but he has never seen him cry.
They had named him together, before their… falling out. She had grinned up at him, baby swaddled snugly in her arms, and had said on a laugh, "What do you think of the name Levi? Sound like a good name for a little rock star?" Charlie hadn't wanted to think about such an innocent thing ending up like him so he had ignored that part of her statement. He had smiled back at her and had asked whether or not she knew what Levi meant. She didn't and he felt a bit like a ponce admitting he did, even if it was only from the countless angry phone calls Liam had gotten from his wife demanding answers on a name for their future child, should it be a boy. Levi meant united, he remembered, and he couldn't think of anything better for the three of them. Plus, it spelled out so neatly on his fingers.
Today, Levi seems especially dozy. Careful not to jar him overly much, Charlie stretches out on his back and settles the baby on his chest. Big blue eyes blink up at him sleepily, wandering the planes of his face. Charlie cradles the baby's head in his hand and places his other snugly against his back. Beneath his hold, Levi's arms and legs tense and flail against Charlie's stomach in that delightful way that had always seemed intimidating before it was his turn to be a part of it. Or to fake a part of it, he reminds himself sadly. He feels pathetic but the bit needs a father figure and there's no way he's leaving that up to anybody at the caves.
Charlie wishes he could remember a full lullaby but he can't. Instead, he sings a soft hodge podge of all of them. He makes a mockery of fluffy white sheep, mockingbirds, and rocking cradles but Levi doesn't seem to mind. Soon, the baby is out for the count and Charlie is left clinging to him, wishing he had more than an hour of this paradise.
Claire watches them unseen from the jungle that outlines the beach and tries not to cry. She knows Shannon and Charlie think they are being secretive but she has known from day one where Levi goes when his surrogate aunt comes to fetch him. She tried for the first little while not to follow, being fully aware of her own hypocrisy, but she just can't stay away. There's something about seeing Charlie with her son that makes her hurt somewhere so deep inside of herself that she can't pinpoint exactly where it comes from.
She wants to rush out of the trees and hold them both but she can't. She won't risk it. She can hear the sickening sound of a rope going taut every moment she's awake; can see the resigned determination in Charlie's eyes every night. It's you or her, Charlie. Think we can't cut the baby out? Even your doctor couldn't fix her then. It's your decision. Your life for hers. She doesn't care if Ethan's dead. She won't let Charlie die for her. Again. A lifetime of being denied his company is better if he is allowed to have a lifetime.
The fact that he thinks she hates him weighs heavy on her heart but she knows it's only a matter of time before he carries on. There are a lot of women on the island and it makes a sickening sort of sense that he should.
It is completely irrelevant that she never will.
The day Claire is too tired to follow Shannon is the day that it happens.
She is lying on the blankets in her nook, holding onto an empty glass jar and trying not to waste her energy crying, when Shannon bursts in, a howling Levi in her arms. Claire's first instinct is to reach for her child but then she realizes that Shannon is back much too soon and is close to tears herself. She freezes. Waits.
"It's Charlie," Shannon manages to gasp out. It occurs to Claire that the other woman is breathing too hard. Claire worries about her asthma and then her words hit her like a freight train.
Don't let him be dead. Don't let him dead..
"What happened?" Her voice sounds funny, high pitched and tight.
Shannon is frantic. They're drawing attention. Sun is walking in their direction and the others are watching them. Claire doesn't care. She's taking too long to answer.
"Shannon!" Claire prods. She feels like she's dreaming. It's all too surreal.
Shannon seems to snap herself out of it. "He was climbing, Claire. For coconuts or something, I don't know. The branch he was on broke and-"
Claire doesn't hear the rest of her sentence. She knows Levi's safe with either Sun or Shannon and so she doesn't hesitate. She doesn't need to hear anymore than that.
Without a second glance, she's on the path and she's running, faster than she thought she could. She barely notices the branches scratching at her face and arms, bare in her sundress, or feels the fire in her lungs. Her feet catch on a root and she goes down hard, but she's up and running again before her brain can even register the pain in her ankle or the sting coming from her knees and her palms. All she can think is that she loves him and that it might be too late. The uneven rhythm of her footfalls sounds like his name.
She bursts onto the beach, out of breath and a mess. There's a twig in her hair that stabs at her face when she moves and her dress is ripped. She thinks she's crying. She knows she doesn't have time to care.
It takes her only a moment to find him, or rather the group around him. They are barely in the tree line, no more than ten meters away from her. She can see Sawyer, Hurley, and countless onlookers whose names she never learned. She can hear Jack ordering everybody to give them room and this is so good that it makes her move faster still. The crowd seems to part for the wild girl with bloody knees and twigs in her hair. Even Jack moves aside for her and if she would have looked at him for longer than a fleeting second she would have noticed his comforting smile. She doesn't. All she can see is Charlie, sitting in the middle of the circle with a makeshift sling on his arm, looking relatively well considering his pain filled grimace and the fact that he is very obviously more than a little embarrassed. She is so relieved to see him alive that her panicked tears promptly turn into all encompassing sobs. She thinks she should have waited for the whole story from Shannon. Charlie glances up and is very noticeably surprised. Claire can hardly see him through her tears.
"Charlie?" she manages to gasp out.
Charlie can't stop staring at her long enough to reply. She looks like she's been to hell and back. He wants to hate her, longs to more than words can say, but she's there before him and she just seems so… broken. He barely notices everybody else leaving, now that he is arm is all nice and bandaged and the excitement is over. From his position on the ground, he regards her warily.
"Something I can help you with, love?" His tone is harsher than he means it but he can't bring himself to care… much.
She pulls herself together enough to ask, "Are you okay?"
Charlie glances down at his arm and shrugs. "It's not broken or anything. Not even really sprained, Jack says. Wrapped this bloody thing around it to be safe. Gave me something for the pain. All's fine here. Show's over."
He's dismissing her. She blinks as the pain of this revelation washes over her. Cringing, she starts to nod. What did she expect? She had been nothing but harsh to him. It doesn't prepare her for the hurt, however, and she has to cross her arms to keep herself from throwing herself at him. Still nodding, she turns to walk away; makes it three steps before he says her name. She tells herself not to feel too hopeful but she can't help it. When she's facing him again, his face is an unreadable mask. Claire waits.
At lasts, he says very slowly, "Why did you come?"
"I…" she trails off, staring at him. This is all too much for her. She can feel her defenses begin to lower. "Shannon said… well, she didn't say much and I thought you… I thought you were… dead."
She looks so awash with pain at the idea that he feels like a right bastard asking, "And that would matter to you?"
"How can you even ask me that?" A whisper.
He's angry now. His arm is throbbing and he can feel a headache forming so he snaps, "Oh, I don't know. 'I don't want you' can only be interpreted in so many ways. Shoo, Charlie. Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
This chokes a sob out of her.
"Sounds pleasant, doesn't it? Sounded lovely to me too." Quieter because this hurts almost more, he adds, "You won't let me see Levi."
"I let you see him every day!" Now she's shouting and she's garnering the attention of those still hovering relatively close by.
He can't even try to hide his shock. Feeling as though the wind had been taken out of his sails a bit, he murmurs, "You do?"
"Yes! Do you think I don't know where Shannon takes him? I… I even feed him just before so he's good for you. And, just so you know, the last line of "Hush Little Baby" is 'you'll still be the sweetest little baby in town.'"
"Bloody hell! I knew that!" Then, with widening eyes, "Claire, you knew about that?"
She nods and refuses to meet his eyes. There's an awkward pause and then he asks, "Why?"
When she looks at him again, there is pure anguish in her eyes. "Why? Because I know you love him just as much as I do. Because I know you're good to him. I know he needs you. Because even if I can't have you, it's not fair for him."
Feeling braver, he moves over and motions for her to join him. When she does, he takes her hand in his good one and repeats his question.
"Why, Claire? I don't understand."
Her voice is so small he almost can't hear her. "You died for us."
Just like that, it all makes sense to him. He blinks at her for awhile. The pain in his arm disappears. For the first time in weeks, he almost feels… relieved. Going out on a limb seems ridiculously easy. She doesn't hate him after all.
Gently, he murmurs, "That's what you do when you love somebody, Claire."
She is shaking her head before he can even finish. "No, Charlie. You can't do that again. I can't do this without you."
"Then stop trying." His hand leaves hers and moves to brush a tangled lock of hair off of her face. "Just stop, love. Please."
She leans hesitantly into his palm. The feel of her cheek against his hand after so long is almost too much for him.
"I don't want you to die, Charlie."
"And I don't plan on it!" he reassures her, "Not for a long long time at any rate. Who's going to teach Levi to play my guitar then, eh? None of the sods around here, let me tell you. And Levi aside, what about you? There's so many things I want to do with you- and to you- that I don't really have time for dying. Didn't fancy it much really."
She tries to smile at him but it wavers. "Promise me."
"Claire, everybody dies. What's the point in being bloody miserable until then? Stop looking so far into the future, love. If we've only got now then so what? Fuck it, right? We're alive now, Claire."
And then he's kissing her. He doesn't mean to. He's sure she isn't expecting it. But her mouth is warm and welcoming and somehow he's forgotten what she tastes like and it's so much better this way. She is whimpering against his lips but her hands are clutching too, gathering at his t-shirt. She's still mindful of his arm but he's sure it's only a bad bruise, maybe on the inside, and he wants all of her. Needs all of her. He wants to leave the bloody beach behind and never lay eyes on it again.
When they pull apart they're both out of breath and gasping. The tears are gone from her eyes but their tracks still line her cheeks and he wastes no time in kissing them away. She's telling him she loves him over and over and it's the most beautiful mantra he's ever heard.
"Your arm," she implores when he stands up and pulls her to her feet with his good hand.
"Not important," he tells her.
Then he's moving in the direction of the caves, squeezing her hand as they walk. He isn't walking fast enough for her. There's still so much of him she wants to kiss and hold and remember and if he doesn't hurry soon she thinks she's liable to throw him to the ground right there in front of everybody but if she waits…
He stops just inside the tree line and before she has time to gauge what's what he's up against her again, hand lost in her hair and tongue lost in her mouth. Underneath her palm the stubble on his cheek feels rough but she can't stop touching him. They fall to the ground as one and, mindful of his arm, Claire wastes no time in straddling him. He's pushing at her sundress with his good hand and she's pushing at his pants and when he enters her she knows he's right because this is the now and this is beautiful.