Tricks of Light
This is a tag to Outlaws. The story is Charlie-centric, with some Sawyer, a bit of Jack, and very tiny parts with Locke and Claire.
Author's Note: Kind of an odd story that didn't go as planned, as none of my stories do. It's my first time writing in the fandom, and I don't really have a good feel for the characters, but it was still fun to write. Even if it is kind of depressing…
He didn't sleep anymore.
The screaming was keeping him awake.
No one else could hear it, and the first time that he had mentioned it they had all looked at him like he was mad—like what was left of his fragile sanity had snapped as his neck so nearly had, and maybe he was crazy. He couldn't be sure of anything on this island, and the strangest thing was, he'd all but stopped caring about finding answers.
He'd stopped waiting for the sound of Helicopters or rescue boats. The screams would have drowned them out anyway, and they probably would have passed right by.
He knew better now, though, than to mention them—the screams—and when Jack told him he looked awful and asked what was wrong, he had blamed the withdrawal. Never mind that he had stopped feeling like he was being ripped apart from need a couple weeks ago, miraculously, really, and he still couldn't figure if it was Locke, or this crazy island that had dragged the cravings down to somewhat manageable levels—but he was handling that now.
It wasn't the problem at all.
The gunshots echoing in the back of his mind, the melody beneath the pain filled screams, they weren't bothering him either. They honestly weren't. He could remember how stiff Ethan had been beneath that blanket as he and Hurley dragged him across the ground—the way one of his hands, white and hard and cold, had been exposed and lit starkly against blue threads.
Not that he thought about that much. Not that he regretted it, because he didn't. And all things considered, that absence of regret was probably what was scaring him the most. He had never imagined how easy taking a life could be. The way they wrote about it, you'd think doing it would require a piece of your soul as penance, or something—but he felt entirely whole.
The nightmares had nothing to do with Ethan, and the fact that the screams were sounding in his strange voice was inconsequential—because when he had shot him Ethan hadn't screamed. There had been no sound that night, nothing at all; just an empty vacuum in the rain and the sound of gunshots pounding in his ears long after he'd pulled the trigger.
They were echoing still, and it wasn't the kind of sound you could outrun.
Charlie placed the palm of his hand against a tree, and he barely noticed when the thick peeling bark began to push into his skin. He took a deep breath, trying to bring in air again before he lost all sense and just dropped. He let his hand fall away, and there were slivers in it now that he ignored as he started walking again.
It was dark out, and only the moonlight reflecting off large green leaves allowed him to see anything at all, but he wasn't really that interested in looking where he was going. It wasn't as though he could become more lost than he already was, and if another polar bear should come out of thin air and eat him, he wasn't sure it would matter.
He probably should have left a note or something, though, before taking off blindly into the trees. Jack had guilt and responsibility issues, unlike him—and he might do something stupid like try to find him and take him back. Then again, even if he had left a letter it might not have stopped him. Everyone had been treating him like glass lately, and he couldn't be sure if it was because they were scared of him now or if they were simply waiting for him to break.
Whatever, it didn't matter. He'd been useless his whole life and they'd be better off without him. Ethan probably could have told them about a way off the island if he'd let him live. Hell, maybe there was a five star resort ten miles north and Ethan only had a roundabout way of inviting them there—it would be just his luck to have salvation in his grasp and not see it was there. He'd always been good at ignoring what was right in front of him, and being a rock god had only catered to that strange need.
He'd been humored and coddled for years, and people who knew of his drug use had thought it just a little quirk, an odd habit he would just grow out of, or something. Maybe they'd been right to think that, and maybe if he was a better person he would have. Liam had. Liam, who always talked him into things he didn't really want to do, and then left him to face them on his own.
Well, this one was on him, anyway, wasn't it? Liam hadn't been there telling him he really ought to kill someone. That idea was all his, and that gun had been so easy to use—a little pressure and you had the power of life and death at your fingertips. If he hadn't been so terrified, he thought it might have been a little more empowering than it had been.
He wondered what Father Pierce would think if he heard him confess to that.
"Where you off to in such a hurry?"
Charlie paused at the voice, wincing and then glancing sideways in the direction it had come from. Sawyer leaned up against a tree, moonlight bouncing off his eyes and his teeth, framed in another smirk, but most of his face was hidden in the shadows. Charlie decided almost instantly he would have rather encountered the polar bear.
He was about to tell him to mind his own business, but his throat felt like it was collapsing on itself, and he wasn't sure he would be able to speak. He just started off again, ignoring the other man, and he tried not to notice when he heard the footsteps start behind him.
"It's a little past your bedtime, ain't it? I hadn't thought Jack was ready to let you out of his sight."
Charlie knew he would have to say something, anything, to get Sawyer to go away. He was on a mission, and he couldn't afford to be distracted. He wanted to see how far he could get before he finally fell. "What are you doing out here?" he decided to ask, instead of the less civil question he would have liked to say, because angering Sawyer would only prolong the game he was so obviously trying to start. And Charlie wasn't in the mood to play.
"I wanted to go for a walk," he said, but there was something in his voice that led Charlie to believe that wasn't it at all. "Then I heard you smashing through the forest. Thought I had a boar after me."
"Well, you don't," Charlie snapped, "so you can get on with your walk. In the other direction, if you don't mind."
"You still haven't answered my question, kid," Sawyer said back, sounding irritated. "It's dangerous wandering off alone at night, you know."
"Does the word hypocrite mean anything to you?"
Sawyer grinned widely, but Charlie didn't bother to look at him and the smugness of it was wasted. "Well, I can take care of myself," he said.
"Good for you," Charlie said. "And you do enjoy looking out for yourself, don't you? So why don't you get back to whatever the hell it was you were doing, and leave me alone." He ducked under a large leaf, and pushed further towards the center of the island. A moment later, he heard Sawyer angrily tug the leaf out of his way.
"Look—Jack finds out I saw you here, and let you wander off, he'd probably banish me to the other side of this godforsaken place—so why don't you just save us both some trouble, and get back to the caves?"
Despite his words, Sawyer didn't really sound all that worried about Jack, or about him, and Charlie, for the life of him, couldn't figure out what he was after. "Don't tell anyone you saw me then," he said. "We both win."
"I thought you were stronger than this," Sawyer said, slyly, like weakness in others amused him. Charlie wouldn't be surprised if it did. "What? You feelin' all weepy about that Ethan guy? You did the right thing. He had it coming."
If Sawyer was telling him he did the right thing, maybe he should reexamine it. Charlie winced, glanced up to the sky. He couldn't see the stars through the canopy, and he knew there was a good chance the eerie glare from the moon would have cancelled most of them out, anyway. He never should have left the beach, he should have stayed there, with Claire, where they could see the stars, and maybe none of this would have happened.
"You surprised me with that, by the way," Sawyer continued. "I didn't think you had in you."
He had never believed he had it in himself, but he wasn't as surprised as he would have been a few years earlier to find he did. He kept walking, Sawyer lazily trailing his heels, and he knew that by now he would never find his way back. Sawyer would know the way, though, because he would have stopped before he got somewhere he didn't recognize. Sawyer left little to chance.
Sawyer was a hard person to admire, but Charlie almost admired that. If he had been so inclined, he was sure Sawyer would be able to protect someone else from harm. Charlie wanted to, more than anything, but for all of that he never could. It didn't seem fair, but it was too late to dwell on it now. None of it mattered anymore, because he was done.
"Where'd you learn to fire a gun like that, anyway?" Sawyer asked, sounding only mildly curious. "Damn fine aim."
"Movies," Charlie told him absently, trying to leave the conversation behind. He could hear screaming in the distance, and it was chasing him too. He just wanted it to be silent so he could lie down and sleep.
Sawyer only laughed at the response, carelessly, like it was something else entirely that he found funny. Charlie could never decipher Sawyer's motives for doing anything, and he hated being around him because of it. Liam had been like that. All charm and smiles when he wanted something—smiling still when he took it even after you said he couldn't.
He was just starting onto a darker path, hidden beneath deep green leaves that blocked the light of the moon—which looked strangely inviting to him—when Sawyer grabbed his arm roughly and pulled him back. From playing the part of the budding conversationalist, to schoolyard bully, in less time than it took to blink. Liam had been like that, too, but Liam's eyes had never been as clouded as Sawyer's—even when he'd been so stoned he could barely stand.
"You're going too far," Sawyer snapped. "You're not going to be able to find a way back, and I'm certainly not following you through there."
Charlie pulled away. "Good. I don't want you following me, I never did."
"I have my doubts about that," Sawyer said, and though he wasn't smiling, Charlie could still the smirk in his eyes. It didn't seem to ever go away. "You want someone to stop you, but it ain't gonna be me. You want to go kill yourself? Be my guest. Just don't expect me to tell your pretty little girlfriend about it. We'll just let them wonder, huh, when you don't come back?"
"I'm not killing myself," Charlie hissed. "Sayid left for awhile, you know—I'm going to explore. See what I can find."
"Do you really believe that, or is it just what you tell yourself? Because you want to know what I think?"
Charlie glared at him. "Not particularly."
"I think," Sawyer said, not missing a beat, "you want this all to be over, and since you're too scared to end it yourself, you're gonna let nature do it for you."
"Nice theory," Charlie said, but he was trying too hard not to believe that already, and it didn't help to hear it spoken aloud. "You forget, though, I've done the whole dying thing already. It's not exactly something I want to repeat."
Sawyer was grinning then. "Then what are you doing out here? Best way I know to get killed on this island is to go down there in the middle of the night," he said, nodding towards the dark inner jungle.
Charlie just glared at him and started to walk towards it. Behind him, Sawyer rolled his eyes and grabbed his arm again. "You don't really want to do this."
Charlie tried to pull away, but Sawyer wasn't letting go this time. "I thought you weren't going to stop me?"
"Yeah well, I've got enough to blame myself for. Don't need you on my conscience too."
Charlie was amazed he could find selfish reasons even in something like this, but he was too irritated to dwell on it. He sneered at him, as he tried to pry the fingers loose. "Don't tell me you have a conscience—"
"Let him go."
The voice held barely restrained anger, and when Charlie and Sawyer both looked up, Jack and Locke were just pushing through the leaves to appear in front of them. They didn't even look out of breath, and Charlie wondered if maybe he hadn't walked anywhere like as far as he had believed.
Sawyer let go, giving an easy grin, and Jack glared at him as he moved over to Charlie's side. "Are you alright?" he demanded. "What's going on?"
"Oh we were just talking," Sawyer said. "Ain't that right, kid?" Sawyer grinned at him, and there was this look in his eyes like he thought he was doing him some great favor, but Charlie didn't understand what. He just knew that now he was going to have to go back again, back in the direction of the screams.
Back with the people he would never be able to help. "Yeah," Charlie said, emotionlessly. "I'm fine." He swallowed, and his throat felt like it was collapsing again, being squeezed together by phantom cords. "We were talking."
Jack frowned at him, looked in his eyes like he was searching for something, and then shook his head. "You shouldn't be out here alone, Charlie."
"Hey, what am I?" Sawyer snapped, but he sounded more amused than hurt.
Jack glanced at him before turning his attention back to Charlie. "You shouldn't be out here alone with Sawyer," he said, by way of a correction. "We were worried about you."
"I bet no one worried about me," Sawyer mumbled disgustedly, watching Jack with something close to distain, even as he broke out into a thick grin.
"No, we didn't," Jack said pleasantly, turning in his direction only briefly, and flashing false smile of his own.
"We should get back to the caves," Locke said, glancing around uneasily.
Even Sawyer took notice at this warning, and when Jack took Charlie's arm and started leading him away with Locke in front, he followed them. He would head back to the beach in the morning. He'd had his fill of walking in the dark.
Claire smiled when they reached the camp, and Charlie tried to smile back. "I was worried about you," she said, and Charlie marveled at how she still sounded so innocent.
He hadn't been innocent in as long as he could remember, and whatever had been left was certainly gone by now. He didn't want Claire to lose the last of hers, but he knew he could do nothing to stop it. He'd killed Ethan but there would be something else. There was always something else.
He could feel it lurking all around them. Sometimes he even saw glowing eyes, bodies that blended into the shadows and left them disembodied—hanging in the air and just watching, waiting. Then there were, of course, the screams. He could not forget them, the island wouldn't let him.
They bounced off the rocks at all angles in this place.
Claire hugged him and then slipped off to go sleep. He watched her go but didn't follow. Jack was watching him from where he sat with Locke, whispering, and he could guess what they were both saying so he didn't bother to try and eavesdrop on the conversation. He had a feeling they wouldn't let him slip away again tonight, and he wasn't altogether upset about it. As much as he wanted to get away he knew, logically, there was no place else to go.
He felt someone come up behind him, and then heard Sawyer's unwanted voice. "You done with that suicide walkabout idea now?" he asked.
Charlie wasn't actually sure, and he wasn't sure that was what it had been at all, but he nodded anyway because he wanted to be left alone.
Sawyer smiled crookedly. "You know, you've actually got people that care about you here. Don't throw it away out of some misplaced guilt."
"I don't feel guilty," Charlie snapped, and he saw Jack and Locke glance up to look in his direction. He lowered his voice. "I don't regret it," he said. He didn't regret it, and he never would. He would do it again, even knowing what would happen. He would do it every time, and he didn't care if the screams followed him the rest of his life.
At least Claire was safe. For now.
"You can keep tellin' yourself that," Sawyer said slyly, starting off to find someplace more secluded to sleep, "but it ain't ever going be true."
Sawyer's footsteps faded, and Jack's eyes lowered away from him. He stood in the center of the caves for a moment of absolute silence. The screams started again soon enough, and he lay down, not expecting sleep.
The next morning he went and stood in front of that dark path, and during the day, with sunlight bouncing through all of the cracks and red flowers growing like weeds, it didn't look like salvation anymore.