Disclaimer: I did not create the characters of Lost and will not profit from their use. JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof have that honor. I understand that ABC and Touchstone are involved as well.

Title: Returning TurnipHead

Characters: Sayid and Charlie

Summary: the trip back to the caves with Aaron

Sayid watched Rousseau fade into the darkness as she drifted down the beach. He considered calling to her to wait, but knew that should he be able to convince her to return to camp with them, he could not convince Charlie of the correctness of the act. Nor would she be well received back at the caves, not after striking Claire to take the baby, no matter Rousseau's motivation. He sighed and turned, watching Charlie inspecting the baby, finger by finger, toe by toe, murmuring words pitched for Aaron's ears.

He shifted his attention to the column of smoke on the beach and all the concerns he had repressed earlier came flooding back. Was Shannon safe? Were all the survivors safe? Had Jack and his team successfully opened the hatch? What had they found? Was it usable for shelter? Had the Others attacked? Where were the Others? How was the crew of the raft faring?

Sayid closed his eyes. It was time to concentrate on the return trip. His stomach twisted as the image of distraught Shannon flashed across his mind's eye. Was she safe? He clenched his jaw and shoved the thought away.

"Charlie." He locked eyes with the younger man. "The trip back is going to be very difficult. It will be much slower, and more dangerous. You must stay close to me, and you must be as quiet as possible."

Charlie bobbed his head, dropping his gaze back to Aaron, watching with a serene smile as tiny fingers wrapped about his index finger. "Right."

"I don't know where the Others are located. They could be watching us right now. " Sayid didn't think so but he wanted to impress upon Charlie the possible dangers before them. "They could follow us back to the caves. There could be more traps by Rousseau. We have no beacon like the smoke to keep us in the proper direction. We'll have difficulty seeing the ground. You must exercise extreme care not to fall on the baby.

"If it was not for the baby needing his mother, I would insist on stopping for the night." His conscience jabbed him. It was nowhere near the truth. He couldn't stay still until morning. He would be mad before dawn. Without the possibility of answers, the litany of questions, complete with images, would roll uninterrupted.

"Right, I got it, okay, Sayid?" Charlie stopped smiling. "Let's go."

Sayid nodded and started across the beach for the jungle's edge. He paused after a few feet, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the deeper darkness. It felt more humid than the beach. The stray longing for the dry heat of Baghdad was squelched. He took a breath, "Ready?" He did not wait for the response and started walking.

It was as difficult as he had anticipated. Of course it was darker under the trees. The ground cover was all but invisible. He was so intent on finding footing that he failed to consider low hanging branches, bushes so that he was slapped and scratched beyond counting.

Sayid would move a few feet and stop; Charlie would follow exactly, Aaron as close to Charlie's chest as the baby would permit without shrieking. It seemed to Sayid that he did little but step and trip. With each stumble his heart jumped to his throat as he waited for the sprung trap to fall on or impale him – or worse, Charlie and the baby. The relief that it was merely a plant, a stone, or a depression was always short-lived knowing the next misstep could be the end of them as Charlie shuffled to him. How was it that they were able to run unimpeded to the beach earlier? He did not recall deliberately choosing his steps.

Sayid was tired enough that the pace of their progress and the fear of going in the wrong direction spawned occasional panic, and he wished that he could scream, just to relieve the pressure. Instead he swallowed it time and again, forcing his breathing to be even, his thoughts calm. He peered ahead, attempting to find familiar shapes, trusting his internal compass.

The island disrupted Locke's compass, offered his mind. He shook the thought away.

He could do this. He had walked longer, farther: strong sunlight baking the top of his head, no water for hours, his pack and gun growing heavier and heavier…… but this was no march; he did not have the luxury of putting the legs into a rhythm, the mind disengaged.

He fell again, this time full length. He held his breath, feeling a vine resting against his ankle. He pushed himself into a sitting position when no rocks rained down. A torch – he would trade his gun for a torch with a narrow beam, he mumbled as he freed his foot, retying the shoe.

"She must have fed him somehow," said Charlie as he closed the gap between them.

"What?" He stood slowly, noticing an ache in his left calf. He dropped his pack and pulled out a water bottle. Was he thirsty or just using different muscles? An excuse to be still for a moment? He drank.

"Rousseau must have fed him somehow. He's not fussin' at all," said Charlie. "Ya think he'd be fussin' by now."

Sayid offered the water bottle. Charlie started to reach for it, and frowned. Sayid put the bottle on the ground and the two gingerly passed the child. Charlie picked up the bottle as Sayid peered at the bundle in his arms, feeling less than comfortable. The face was a blur. Was a covering really necessary in this heat?

"That or the nutter drugged him," continued Charlie.

"Perhaps he is tired from the excitement," offered Sayid, meeting Charlie's glance.

"That's probably it," said Charlie, screwing the cap back onto the bottle. "He probably cried the whole time without Claire." He moved to take back the child. "Or without Sawyer to read to him." He grinned sharply at Sayid. "Go figure that one, will ya?"

Sayid returned Aaron to Charlie, and slipped on the backpack after retrieving the water bottle. Images of the raft and its crew rose before him. How far had they gotten by now? The launching had revealed a hope to him that he hadn't realized he buried. Was the signal fire still burning? Would it draw the Others to the beach and away from the caves? Why hadn't he thought of that sooner?

"Figure we're halfway there?" asked Charlie, adjusting the jacket around Aaron.

"What?" He blinked. "I think so, yes. Watch – a vine." He stepped with exaggerated care over the plant. A torch. He'd trade his gun for a torch with a narrow beam.

Charlie followed.

As they crossed the flat rocks near the beach, Aaron woke and began to wail. "Sorry," shrugged Charlie when Sayid turned. "NOW he's hungry."

"Do you think….water…from the bottle? That he could drink?" He was useless here. His experience with infants stopped with smiling at the mothers. Charlie's ease with the child evoked envy. At this moment at least.

"Dunno. Rather doubt it. But hey!" Charlie's face lit up. "I can put the water on my finger and he can suck it from there!" He glanced over his shoulder at his pack, then Sayid's feet. "Ahh, you have any more water?"

Sayid dropped his pack and felt in its depths for plastic. He was relieved to be so close to the caves. He was no longer concerned about Rousseau's snares, by the noise that they made. Perhaps it was the false security of being on familiar ground, of being out from under the canopy of the jungle, the ability to see more than dark outlines immediately before him. He located a heavier bottle and once again found himself holding Aaron while Charlie sluiced water over his hands.

It was very different holding a crying baby, its squalling louder than seemed possible given his size. Sayid attempted the smooth, bouncing motion that he witnessed Claire and Sun use but his joints seemed to lock and he seemed to jar the boy more than sooth, causing seemingly impossible louder cries.

Charlie dried his fingers on a more remote spot on his shirt. With hygiene attended, he extended his arms for the child. Sayid gratefully complied, then dribbled water over Charlie's index finger as needed. Aaron was not initially happy with the offering but after three or four tastes seemed to accept the substitution.

"That'll have ta do till we get back to Claire," said Charlie when Aaron seemed satisfied.

The next set of cries seemed to come almost at soon as they were underway. They were standing on sand, but were they really any closer to the caves? Sayid glanced over his shoulder to Charlie.

"No mystery this one," announced Charlie, holding Aaron under the baby's arms. "He's soppin'!"

Sayid dropped to a knee, pulling the pack over his shoulder. He rummaged through its contents. "I have nothing that would serve …"

"Well," Charlie spread the jacket, carefully laying the baby on it. He removed the diaper, and looked about. He dropped it to one side, face screwed into distaste. "Nothin' wrong with goin' knickerfree when mum's not about."

"Isn't the supply of those limited?" Had he overheard Claire complain about the constant need to launder the garment? Why was this even crossing his mind? What were they going to find back at the caves? Was Shannon safe? He struggled back to the now. He must be getting tired.

"You want to carry it then?" Charlie loosely wrapped the largest dry spot of the jacket about Aaron and rose stiffly. "Let's go. Even I know where I am now."

They were very close to the caves when Sayid instinctively dropped to the ground, the sound of a swinging something slicing the air near his head. "Back!" he commanded, pushing Charlie back. Charlie stumbled backwards and landed on his backside, the baby tightly clasped to the man's chest. Aaron wailed in protest.

Sayid reached for the gun for in his waistband, scrabbling into a crouch in front of Charlie and the shrieking baby. One hand on Charlie's calf, Sayid sought the source of the attack, gun at ready, waiting for a target. The crashing sounds of large bodies from the left and right accelerated the pounding of his heart.

He pulled closer to Charlie and the baby; glancing evenly back and forth. Each shot would need to be sure.

Was he finally coming face to face with the Others? Rousseau had said that they came for her child in the night. Had she again been struck with ill fortune, the Others coming to the caves for the child that she had stolen to trade? Were they coming or going from the caves? Were the survivors safe? Was Shannon?

"Sy?" A woman's voice gulped as a male voice called almost simultaneously, "All clear!"

"Sy, good God, are you all right?" the woman continued, her voice dropping an octave. "God, I'm so sorry! Where's Charlie? Is that the baby?" A short, youngish woman's form erupted from the dark, another person at her heels; a male, dark haired, slightly older.

"Tracy?" Relief washed over Sayid, pressing him to the ground, the hand with the gun dropping limply onto his lap. She looked like the long haired woman who helped wash fruit; the American who shortened everyone's name.

Two men burst from the growth from the left, a man and a woman the right, sturdy staffs at the ready. "What –" "Here –" They stopped, looking first to Sayid and Charlie, to the center pair, back to Sayid and Charlie. "You get the baby?" the male from the right demanded.

"We have the baby," said Sayid.

"The caves have guards," beamed Charlie. "Good on you!"

"What, we move to the caves and we can't organize a watch?" the center woman snorted angrily. "It's not all that different than last time, ya know, Sy. Just no beach for someone to forget."

The reminder of the oversight brought the image of Scott's mangled body. Sayid's throat tightened. There was no response to this.

"Low blow, Tracy," said her partner. Sayid knew his face: the man worked on the signal fire, chopped wood, organized water runs; what was his name? "And his name is Sayid. Not Sy."

"Well he's actin' like we can't take care of ourselves. It's the Jack complex, I'm tellin' ya, Steve." Her voice rose again. Nerves were clearly strung tight. The stout stick in her right hand was shaken like a long, fat finger at Sayid and Charlie. "If he thought we knew how to take care of ourselves, I wouldn'ta almost clocked him. He woulda been expectin' us to be here."

"Be careful with that thing," clearly the fellow was accustomed to placating her. "You don't realize how dangerous you are."

Sayid returned the gun to his waistband. He rose and helped Charlie to his feet.

"He was part of that mess! He was in on the decision not to – " Tracy continued, ignoring Steve.

"Tracy," Sayid stepped towards her. "Have there been any sign of the Others?" Is everyone safe? How is Shannon? Given Tracy's reaction, it was likely that he and Charlie were the first to cross the perimeter. Still, he wanted it confirmed.

Charlie made comforting noises and gently patted Aaron's bottom, bringing the wails to a soft whimper. "What about Jack and team dynamite?" he asked the group in general.

Tracy, flicking hair over her shoulder with her left hand, stepped next to Charlie. She reached gently to touch the baby's head while Steve said, "No sign of anyone, Jack or otherwise."

All guards nodded in agreement. "The Others didn't get past us tonight," stated an older male – Sean? - as each took a turn touching the baby's downy hair.

"And neither did Jack or Locke," added Tracy forcefully. "Or Kate. Or Hurley. Or Arzt, for that matter."

Baby homage paid, the guards stepped apart. Steve shook his head. "Good thing we didn't wait for Jack. I'm still not exactly sure what their plan was, but it was good that we had ours to fall back on. Team dynamite?"

"We can look for them in the morning, then." Sayid watched Charlie start towards the caves. "You've done a good job, Tracy."

She snorted, not angry. "Don't patronize me, Sy."

"I haven't and I won't."

Charlie was out of view. Sayid gave them his full attention. "Where do you need me?"

The pack exchanged looks.

"Nowhere," said Tracy gruffly. "You've done enough for a day, doncha think? Launch a raft, move off the beach, and traipse through the jungle. That's enough."

"If they're gonna show tonight, it would be better to have rested people out here," said Steve, lightly tapping his leg with the staff. "If the smoke is still ….smoking tomorrow, then you can play soldier with the rest of us."

Sayid nodded and hurried to follow Charlie. He turned before entering the protected area. "I'll keep a sharper eye for the sentries at the cave mouth."

"You better! One of 'em's Jan and he's faster than me to swing!" called Tracy.

"I'll warn Charlie." He smiled quickly and left their sight.