A/N: Warning- this update contains fluff. :-)
Chapter Eight: Not Just Any Guy Now
"I walked across
an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete." Somewhere Only We Know, Keane
Claire grabbed up a new pair of nappies and brushed a string of hair from her face. Aaron was being unusually grouchy today, but she supposed he deserved some complaining time after all the time she had spent with Charlie…
Little boy legs flung around in utmost defiance as Claire attempted to brace the bit of cloth from his bottom. "Oh, Aaron," she sighed. "Just let me change you, alright?" His face continued to grew reddish-purple in protest and a vein began throb above his left eyebrow. Shifting him to the side ever so slightly, she finally managed to remove the soiled diaper and ball it up into the old nappies pile, which had mounted disturbingly against the wall of the caves.
After quickly attaching the new cloth around his middle she pulled Aaron up triumphantly and said, "There: clean, fresh nappies. See, doesn't that feel better?" Aaron's cries became less vigorous but continued all the same. "Are you jealous?... Of Charlie?" Claire asked swinging Aaron into the cradle position. "I know we've been spending a lot of time with him. He's normally so cute and funny. But lately he's needed our help, Aaron." The baby's cries were slowly turning into pathetic tiny whimpers. "I suppose we have been around him a lot. But guess what? He has a surprise for us today, Aaron! A surprise! Imagine Thomas throwing us a surprise…"
The thought was nearly humorous. There was once a time when she would've believed that Thomas could go out of his way to make her feel special, although the idea died the moment she saw his face when he said they couldn't 'make it'. She wasn't expecting much out of the surprise. Hell, Charlie could lead her to a spot with a large mutilated dead shark and she wouldn't care! The point was: he wasn't Thomas. Charlie wouldn't give up on her like that.
Claire's musings were broken by an unexpected silence. Aaron cuddled in her arms, his eyes alert and his mouth moved about minus the sounds. Claire smiled down at him. "Charlie would make a good father, you know. Some woman will be very lucky to have him…"
This was hard to say, but she knew that she couldn't blame Charlie for taking off if or when they were rescued. He was a man of great things and Claire didn't want to weigh him down, postponing his dreams of success.
But on the island… that was different…
Kate had entered the caves, heading determinedly to her bags to pull out a clean shirt. Dripping with sweat she said, "Beautiful day, isn't it?"
Claire nodded her head, gazing out into the open end of the cave. It was indeed a gorgeous day and she could see the brightness of the blue sky despite the faded darkness of the roofed shelter. "Yes, it is." She waited a moment while Kate pulled her tank top over her head. "Hey, do you know what time it is?"
"No. Locke said it was nearly noon, though. Why?"
A jolt of excitement ran through Claire. Nearly noon… Charlie said to meet him at noon! Claire began stretching about; they might as well start heading off now. "Oh, no reason… just curious."
It was a lie, but Claire had managed to avoid an obvious blush. Why was she making such a big deal out of this? It was only Charlie, nothing to fret over. Then again, Claire couldn't remember the last time a guy had thrown a surprise for her. Best not to get her hopes up though…
Kate trudged past Claire, breaking her musings. "See you later, then."
Claire smiled a goodbye and exited the caves behind her. It was indeed a beautiful day: clear and light, but Claire had learned not to judge the island weather conditions simply by sight. She knew that soon enough the humidity would sink in and she would entirely forget about any previous assumption of nice weather.
She looked about for any sign of someone with a watch, but the only other person she saw was Hurley, having a bit of trouble zipping up a tote bag. Most people would be down near the beaches now, enjoying a bit of sun for a few minutes in between their busy routines. "Hello Hurley…"
Hurley shot up quickly and when he saw Claire he began to stammer a little. "Oh, right. Hello, Claire."
"Do you know what time it is? I mean, do you have a watch or anything?"
Somewhat nervous now, his eyes darting around as though he had forgotten something, "no… I um… Charlie told me to tell you… uh…" He scratched his head feeling incredibly stupid. "Just follow the trail…"
Claire beamed. Charlie really had this thing all planned out… A trail and everything… "Thank you Hurley."
She turned and looked at the trees before her. Sure enough there was a bit of red cloth taped up against a bare tree to her right. Grinning to herself, she began to pick her way through the forest following the red cloth tags.
The walk was brief and Claire was surprised to see a blur of color so near in the distance. Rounding upon a clearing, Claire breathed in sharply.
It was breathtaking. Beneath the canopy of tree branches and bursts of sunlight was a quaint eating quarters: the cute, classic picnic scene complete with white (or what used to be white) beach towels, a woven wood basket and artfully arranged (wooden) plates and bowls. Claire became suddenly light and so filled with the purity of joy that it was hard to believe she was still on ground.
Charlie approached looking rather dashing; he was wearing untarnished jeans and a fitted black shirt (Lord knows where he had been hiding them!). Claire felt warmth spreading across her cheeks as she blushed at her own appearance. After all, her top was loose and covered in a mixture of mud and sweat. It was hard to keep from grimacing at what a horror she must look…
Charlie extended his arm to indicate taking hers in return, and Claire let out a small giggle she had unsuccessfully stifled. Rotating Aaron into her left arm, her right hand could now lace around his forearm allowing him to lead her to the picnic arrangement. "Charlie this is…" She looked around still in delightful awe, "amazing."
When Charlie smiled, he felt his entire insides glow with content. Be cool, he reminded himself, trying not to grin like an idiot. "Oh, it was nothing."
Unconvinced but humoring him, Claire changed the subject. Sitting down elegantly on the soft towel, she looked at her surroundings. "So, what's in the basket?"
"Fruit," Charlie brought the basket between them, causing less tension now that the space between them was less... empty. "It doesn't hold much, but I thought we could have these for appetizers." Charlie pulled out numerous fruits from within the carrier. "And- a picnic isn't a picnic without a picnic basket!"
"Surely not!" Claire felt elated. Her smile felt as though it stretched from ear to ear and her heartbeat was fluttering unevenly beneath her breast.
Claire repositioned Aaron (who was being abnormally quiet this afternoon) into her lap. Still enormously curious, she continued. "What brought this," she nodded towards the whole picnic idea, "on?"
Charlie was struck with mock indignation, "What do you mean? Can't a man plan an innocent picnic anymore?"
Reaching for a sliver of pineapple, Claire played, "Of course he can, and it's all utterly flattering!"
Charlie was finding it increasingly difficult to remain "cool." "I'm glad you think so."
This remark caused a coquettish glance from Claire, such a one that made him feel uncomfortable in a way that he was quite speechless. Wiping the palm of his hands along his jeans, his mind thinking fast, he spoke, "How's turnip-head this morning?" Charlie reached forward, taking Aaron and holding him so the boy was standing on Charlie's knee.
"Fine, fussy about changing as usual," Claire bit into the pineapple and watched Charlie making goofy faces at Aaron. "He really does enjoy your company, you know."
"And why shouldn't he," the lightness of comical sarcasm noticeable in his voice.
"Because sometimes, Charlie Pace can be a bit of a nutter," Claire joked at his unbelievably silly bug eyed face. After a fake-wounded expression from Charlie, she added, "But, a very adorable nutter."
"Yes, well. I try." Charlie smiled at her and placed Aaron into his own lap, taking a few bites of imaginary sausage.
The flirtatious chit-chat between bites continued on for an hour, both Claire and Charlie smiling so much that the thought of even attempting to frown would be impossible. Claire had just mentioned how storm clouds were approaching when a raindrop suddenly landed squarely on Claire's nose.
Within minutes the picnic scene had turned into a furious mud pit. Hard rain was beating down threateningly from all directions, instantly halting Charlie's plans of further conversation or romance. Instead, the two hurriedly grabbed as many things as they could carry, Aaron safely between Claire's arms, and ran off to the nearest shelter.
Claire felt suddenly cold entering the caves, rainwater dripping off her chin and collecting attractively in her eyelashes. Both of their cloths were sopping, water sloshing unpleasantly in their shoes. Claire's skin shivered from the sticking clothing and she looked towards Charlie whose hair was plastered wetly onto his head, his gaze darting about trying to find some sort of cover up for the unexpected falter in his plan. "So much for the picnic," was all he managed to say with a half shrug, his hand jutting automatically to the back of his head to squeeze the water from it. He felt embarrassed, but he wasn't entirely sure why. It wasn't like he had made it rain or whatever.
"No, Charlie. It was perfect. Really."
The moment Charlie looked into her eyes he was lost in her reassuring expression. Her features, so pleasant and innocent, made Charlie's stomach flip into the familiar knot. Maybe it wasn't so bad that they were wet and alone in the caves.
Neither could speak, both under the intense spell that had been cast by a single glance. It was a beautiful silence, the dull pitter patter of rain outside the cave entrance… the loud thudding of each person's own conscious heartbeat… the thankfully quiet Aaron placed upon a makeshift bed of blankets and towels inches away from Claire's right foot.
At the same moment, the two leaned in slowly closing the space between them until their lips touched. Claire felt a tingle rise up her spine the moment their mouths collided, a sense of school-girl joy filling within her. She reached up carefully, first wrapping her arms around his neck and then softly playing with the ends of his blonde hair, twisting the bits damp fluff around her finger tips. In those few seconds, the rest of the world melted away: the crash, the drugs, Thomas… Her entire mind was singing with the idea of Charlie's lips against hers and his arms around her waist.
The intimate kiss lingered on for minutes, Claire gently brushing the back of her hand along the scruff of his cheek, Charlie delicately holding her shoulders. The two wrapped within each others arms seemed so perfect and ideal. It was only when Charlie had began tracing the neckline of her shirt when Claire felt the weight of weakness and vulnerability just below her diaphragm. Pulling away, she felt for his hands and held them tenderly.
Watching Charlie's face at that moment reminded Claire why she loved him so much. Yes, there was disappointment etched within the lines of his face, but more importantly there was understanding. Charlie scooted towards her a little, only she knew his intentions had been anything but of hostility. Claire was surprised when she felt herself tearing up, the pre-sob thickness clinging to her throat, "Thank you."
Charlie brought Claire's hands up to his lips and hollowly whispered, "For what?"
Claire gulped down as many tears as she could hold. "For taking things slow. It hasn't exactly been easy after…" She trailed off, her right hand shooting instinctively towards her abdomen.
"It's okay." His voice was soothing and calm. It was funny, actually, because Charlie was taking this slow just as much for him as he was for her. He didn't think he could live with himself if he screwed this up, not when Claire was so important to him. This relationship was saving him, keeping him from breaking into tiny irreparable pieces. It was saving him from utter depression. It was keeping him alive, giving him something to live for.
He just sat there taking her in. He wanted to freeze this moment, to make it last for an eternity. He and Claire, together in the caves: no tension, no arguments, no hatch, no plane, no drugs. Just… togetherness.
This feeling was virtually indescribable. A feeling of total fullness and powerful emotion was fluttering throughout his veins, causing an incomprehensible weightlessness to wisp around him and glitter in the space between them.
Charlie studied the way she was posed, sitting cross legged knee-to-knee with him. Claire's eyes were more alight than he had seen them in days, a sad smile tugging gently at her lip. Her arms, draped elegantly over her calves and hands entwined with his own.
In a meaningful quietness, Charlie gazed into the depths of her eyes. He felt so… whole. His entire life seemed to have a purpose. His mind was erased of past faults and intrusions. This must be who the real Charlie Pace was: Claire's Charlie. It just had to be…
Charlie reached up and tucked a stray curling wet strand of hair behind Claire's ear. It was amazing: the way the cool silkiness felt against his fingertips, the way her very being just made him feel so complete. "You're so beautiful."
She wanted his hand to stay there, his warm touch soothing against her stony cheek. His words filled her heart, a knot forming in the dark of her throat. "Even before?"
He took both of Claire's cheeks in his hands now, cupping them gently and speaking to her in a most naturally truthful manner, "…Always."
Claire couldn't help but laugh with the realness of the situation. It was a soft, sad laugh, broken thickly between sobs. "I don't know many guys who would call an eight month pregnant woman beautiful."
Buffing out his shoulders a bit he declared, "Well I'm not just any guy, am I now?"
The barrier between pre-sob and crying had been defeated. Claire shook with the force of her tears and she hid her face looking pointedly at the floor. Her shoulders heaved almost gracefully as she covered her mouth with her hands, ashamed for her unstableness. It was crying, but not just for happiness or sadness. It was a combination of every thought and feeling Claire had experienced since the crash, all compacted into tiny drips of individual tears.
Charlie took her lovingly into his arms, holding her and relaxing her shivers. "Claire, you have a wonderful child." Claire smiled against the shoulder of his shirt looking beyond into the lump of blankets that was her son.
Charlie knew just how to mend her. He knew what made her tick, what hurt her and what frightened her. He would try his hardest to smooth things down despite the bumps and cracks that came along their way. He didn't flinch when she saw she was pregnant but bared no wedding band. He didn't run off and hide all those times that she screamed at him for stupid reasons controlled by hormones. He was so unbelievably patient with her and Aaron. Charlie Pace was a truly amazing man.
"Thank you, Charlie," she whispered softly into the still cave air. "Thank you."
A/N: Alright. So… what do you think? I really liked this chapter… all the intimacy and fluff (but not pink, cotton candy, sap dripping fluff). I actually had the majority of this chapter done over a week ago, but I didn't want the ending to be so obviously… energy consuming. Like, the beginning and picnic part was originally feebly weak and the ending was…BAM! I needed to even it out a bit, add to the climax of the scene.
Great news everyone! I got into the play Blithe Spirit at Walden! I'm really excited, especially because I am cast with so many great actors! I have rehearsal three times a week, but hopefully it won't put off too much fic time, and if it does, I shall purposely write to my best ability during the time frame I have. I don't want to become one of those "float-y stories" that take so long to post that everyone's lost interest (although I'm afraid I've already become one…).
I got more reviews than I expected from the last chapter… I totally understand about it being shallow-ish. Hope this chapter was more intriguing!
-artistgirl727- This really shows how time consuming everything else is in my life… You asked about the season opener, and now it's almost to Hurley's #4! I liked the season premiere because it continued on the questions (etc) from last season. However, LOST is becoming a TOTALLY different show now, which has its pluses and minuses. I kind of miss the "normalcy" from season one, where everything was so less… intense. But, intensity is kind of cool now, because it's answering our questions and keeping us on our toes. Personally, I don't like the idea of ENTIRE thing as a science experiment. I mean, it makes perfect sense and all but, isn't it too simple? I really don't thing the Dharma thing is it though, because they do still have the rest of the season to uncover things…. Anyways, glad college is fun! Hope you liked the update!
-smartykid- hope that "wow" is a good wow…
-pokefreaks13- argh! I want the driveshaft song! (In Thomas voice) LUCKY! I am just about to email you guys about episode three (yes, I know I'm a little late) so I won't do a horribly long review reply. Yes I agree, though. The eppy was great! Hope you liked the CC-centricness:-D
-strongshol- sorry about Teletubbies… haven't watched them for a while.. ;-)
-kiss316- Hope this chapter was interesting enough to forgive the last chapter! I really like this one… but that's just me… Thanks mucho-ly!
-Ponyboysgirl1- I truly hope this chapter lived up to your expectations and that my eagerness wasn't all hype. Thank you so much for reviewing! This chapter was way more CC than the last one :-)
You all know what to do! Review!