Summary: Claire has to come to terms with some things.
Disclaimer: LOST is not mine. These characters are not mine. They are registered trademarks of something or other. Basically NOT mine. I borrow, I don't own.
Timeline: none...it is speculative really...alt universe-ish
Spoilers: Homecoming / The Greater Good (possibly others too)
Notes: Doesn't take place within the canon. So this didn't happen on the show and it's not placed within any eps. However, if you haven't seen most of season one, some things might not make sense. I am not trying to suggest in this story that Claire doesn't love her baby. Not at all (as you will discover). However, I think all mothers have moments, especially with added circumstance, when a baby's screams do more than just grate the nerves, you know? This was just a random idea I had, so I hope I've done it justice.
That particular day, Aaron had been screaming a lot. A teething baby on an island with nothing to soothe him does not mix well with a mother who has no idea what she is doing. I get panicked enough when there is danger about or when I'm out of nappies, but when he's screaming there is always that extra edge. Nerves are grated, frayed and frazzled until anything other sound is swallowed by the all consuming sound of my baby's cries. Nothing gets in, except that extra biting panic.
It wasn't just that though.
I was having the dreams again. I wasn't even sure if they were dreams or memories. Sometimes it would be Ethan's face, stone cold and blurring over me as I screamed. Sometimes it would be that French woman, grabbing for my arm, my nails scraping her flesh. Most times the dreams had no form, the only consistent thing being pain and terror. Instinctively, my hands were clutching at my tummy when I awoke. The comforting bulge was gone, of course. For that brief moment I would almost be physically sick with dread until I realized Aaron was a breath away, sleeping soundly in his crib. Aaron, unlike his mother, escaped the nights without any interruptions.
Charlie was always around. He didn't sleep much, but when he did, even my nightmares couldn't rouse him. After I'd calmed down, I would sometimes watch him there, sprawled on his make-shift bed, lightly snoring, one brow furrowed as if he were labouring over some painful mystery. In those moments I wasn't focused on myself, my fear or my son. I was merely wondering why this man invested so much time in me. Why had this goofy, endlessly sweet man, killed for me? Only to keep me safe? I didn't remember much about knowing him (just a vague reference to peanut-butter that he hadn't really explained properly). How could I have earned such a thing in so short a time?
The odd thing was, no one on the island knew Charlie better than I did (and their memories were intact). Even though there were chunks of time I'd lost, the feelings he inspired hadn't changed. I meant what I had said to him the day Ethan died; I wanted to trust him. Trust does not come easily to me; The only way for any trust to develop was to be with Charlie, day in day out, just waiting for some sign that I could breathe. The little observations I had written down in my journal no longer puzzled me, as they had when I reread them. I'd spend days with him, just watching the tide go in and out, playing with Aaron and giggling at his goofy stories. No matter how light things got, I always caught the subtleties of his expressions when he thought no one was watching. As involved as we had been with island business, we mostly were left to each other. I'd grown to enjoy it.
On days like this one, however, Charlie had his own business and I hadn't seen him all day. This day was tainted with the memory of a particularly heinous nightmare. With that and Aaron's screams, I was pretty much a wreck. Island business conducted itself as usual and left me alone. Most people didn't really speak with me when Aaron cried like this. It irritated me that no one would help me.
I clung to Aaron helplessly, rocking him back and forth and pacing through the sand. I tried to sing to him once or twice, but my voice was swallowed in the sound of his wails. Eventually, when my ears were near the bleeding point, I set him down and stared despondently at his wriggling form. He wasn't wet; he couldn't have been hungry; he had gotten used to Sawyer's absence (for awhile that was the only voice that would quiet him) and usually the sound of my voice or Charlie's was enough to soothe him. I was at a complete loss.
When Charlie finally came out of the trees, I wasn't even thinking clearly anymore. I'd been exhaustedly picking Aaron up and setting him down for hours. Just seeing him strolling along like that, with that impish grin on his face made me want to scream. In retrospect there was no way he could have known how long I'd been at it, especially since Aaron had been pretty calm recently.
When he joked about a broken record he was only trying to lighten things. I know all that now, but the moment he spoke something snapped inside me.
I completely unloaded at him; I screamed and threw anything I could get my hands on at him. I can't really even recall what I said now. It all came out in a jumble: how alone I felt; how Aaron just wouldn't stop screaming; how I hadn't any baby supplies; how I hated the fact that nobody, including him, would just help me; How could he leave me alone when people were out there who wanted to hurt Aaron and I...I called him heinous things too. Even with all this, he kept coming nearer and nearer. The thought of him trying to calm me down, trying to squash all of this made me want to hurt him. So I told him, in a rude and cruel way, that he was useless and never helped me (blatantly untrue). This is when he stopped edging towards me, when he stopped whispering for me to "calm down". He just froze. The satisfaction of getting him to stop was short-lived.
The more I yelled the louder Aaron's screams were, but I was beyond stopping myself. The only full statement I remember saying was, "He was never supposed to happen!" I wasn't just being unreasonable, I was being crazed.
Finally, something halted the venom spewing from my lips.
It was Charlie.
He didn't even say anything to me. It was his eyes; They were almost black. Usually he wore his emotions as visibly as his clothing; There was never a time, at least when he was looking at me, when I couldn't guess at what he was thinking. At this moment, I almost didn't have a clue. I couldn't decide whether he was going to slap me, or start to cry. My thoughts ran on a loop of bitter remorse, "it's over...he'll never speak to me again". For once, he didn't bother to even touch me, to even attempt a reassuring glance, like he always did (I can't say I blamed him at all). He just walked past me and leaned down over my screaming son. I saw him touch Aaron's face and for one second, his cries stopped. Wordlessly, Charlie turned back towards me.
"He did happen, Claire."
Breathing hard, I could only stare into his torturous gaze. He'd slapped me, without even touching me. He had never spoken to me in such a tone.
Charlie glanced from Aaron to me. In anger, "He needs you."
"What do I do?" I whispered helplessly.
"Be his sodding mum."
"I don't know what he wants! What am I supposed to do, Charlie?"
In answer, Charlie just walked away. His parting shot was, "I've gotta go"
Aaron began to cry again and this time I joined him. The tears were very slow, the kind that constricted my chest and caused me to gasp now and then. So strong was the heaviness inside me that no other sound could have escaped. I'd cried such tears the day I went to the adoption agency. It had felt right and proper and then as soon as I came home I'd lost it. I remember clutching my stomach for dear life and cursing like a bloody sailor. It hurt unbelievably, mostly because I felt abandoned.
I thought of Thomas suddenly. He had promised to look out for me and this baby. He'd also tried to convince me that Aaron could be the "best thing ever". In the end, he had left me. They always did. Why had I come to expect anything else? I'd give my love away and suddenly I'd be standing alone.
Of course, this time, I actually deserved it.
Aaron had quieted considerably, but he was still shifting around in his crib, occasionally letting out a little sob. I found my voice somehow, then reached out and gently rocked my baby's crib. "What do you want, Aaron?"
He sniffled and stared up at me, his little hands curling in and out of fists underneath his chin. He was so precious. I loved him so completely. When he was still growing inside me, he was almost a burden. I'd always secretly blamed him for existing. After all, he was never supposed to be. I'd almost given him away. If the flight hadn't crashed, where would he be now? A coldness crept into my chest at the thought of never having met my son...of never watching his little fingers reaching up to me.
The truth was, on this island, Aaron had been my closest companion. Even if I was alone, I always had my baby inside me, kicking and squirming and filling me with warmth. He was disarming, exhausting, frustrating, but, just like all those clichés had taught me, the moment I looked in his eyes I was completely in love. All I could think was, "I have a son." The day he was born was the first day my smile never became fake, nor forced. I felt like I was shining that day (at least for a little while, before Boone's...well, before I knew what had happened).
Aaron began to sniffle and squirm again. When his face scrunched up to wail once more, I touched his cheek as tenderly as I could. I almost couldn't stop myself. He got that face that babies sometimes get, where their little eyes bulge out in amazement and they almost completely freeze.
I looked into my son's eyes, "I'm glad that you happened."
Silence descended as I slowly stroked his smooth skin and traced the lines of his chubby face with my fingers. Finally he was smiling and when he giggled I nearly wept again, this time with relief. I pulled him out of his crib and rocked him. Cooing softly to him, I waited until he drifted off and then set him down again. It was only then that I allowed what I had said to sink in.
I found him sitting by the fire that night. I'd searched the whole day for him, but I think he was avoiding me (and rightly so). I'd catch a glimpse of his tousled hair or hear the sound of his guitar and by the time I reached him he was already gone. I asked Hurley where Charlie was a couple of times and all I could get out of him was a blush and a, "not sure". I was suddenly mortified that he'd seen what had happened, but I chose not to think about it. Outbursts happened all the time, right?
Who was I kidding? I was bloody guilty.
When I slid down next to him, he was poking at the fire and watching the sparks fly up into the wind. A tension settled in around us and caused me to wrap my arms around my stomach. It seemed to be a reflex I couldn't get rid of. Charlie noticed this small shift and his eyes briefly shot towards me. I tried to smile, even a half smile, but it died before it could take any shape.
"Where's turnip-head?" He asked. His voice was very soft.
"Sleeping," I replied, just as softly. "Finally."
Silence settled in again and we watched some more sparks try to reach the sky. I had the inexplicable urge to grab his hand, or his arm and get him to look at me. It was unnerving. Telling him sorry would have been so much easier if he'd just turn to me. Of course, if he had, any words I'd have come up with probably would have slipped away. I'd never been good at apologies.
"Where have you been all day?" I finally asked, nearly cringing at the awkwardness of my voice. "I've been looking for you."
"Had some things I needed to sort out," He mumbled. He finally gave me a small smile. "Hard to believe I got a life in this sandbox, huh?"
Return half smile.
"Charlie wait," I interrupted. Now he was looking at me and damned if I knew what I was going to say next. I bit my lip, willing myself to say "sorry". It was two simple syllables, and I was sorry, in every sense of the bloody word! "I-I..."
Before I could make any kind of coherent sentence, Charlie pulled something out of his pocket. It was one of those plastic teething rings. A proper one. I just gaped at it and then stared at Charlie, who was now grinning, of all things. Then, I started to laugh.
"Where did you find that!"
"Don't know where it came from, but I got it out of some stuff Sawyer left behind. I don't know what he wanted with it. Guess maybe he thought he could trade it in for a lock of your hair or something." Charlie handed it to me.
All laughter faded and I felt tears at the corners of my eyes. "Charlie-"
"Claire, don't worry," Charlie interrupted again. His smile was soft and far too understanding "All mothers have their days, right? If a baby'd been crying in my ear half the day I'd be a bit stroppy too."
A bit stroppy? He was being too kind.
His eyes lowered. "And maybe, uh, you were right about a bit of it. I haven't exactly been the best at taking care of you."
"That's not true." I said quietly. He looked at me and I held his gaze for a moment. "I didn't mean it. Any of it."
For a moment it looked like Charlie was going to contradict me, but then his face broke into a small smile and he rubbed the back of his neck, a gesture I knew all too well. He turned back to me and said softly, "I know, Claire."
I nodded and stared down at the exact thing I needed sitting on my lap. I fiddled with the colourful ring and tried not to cry again. This wasn't the perfect solution, Aaron would still scream and wail, but at least now he had something to calm him now and then. Charlie was too sweet. Even after all that I'd said...Who else would have gone on a search for something so random? Something that had a one-in-a-millionth chance of being on the island at all? For a girl who'd been so 'stroppy' that she'd intentionally hurt his feelings (and possibly his body, after throwing many a things)? I was very lucky.
"Hey," I forced myself to look at him again. He was back to poking the fire. "Did I ever thank you?"
"Oh, please don't. Red's not my colour," He gestured to his cheeks. "'Sides, anyone coulda found that for you, I just-"
"Not just this," I interrupted. I had to lower my eyes again because the tears were starting to fall. Dammit, why did I feel so vulnerable?
"For being so handsome, then?" Charlie seemed almost confused. The stick he'd been poking with had fallen to the ground and he was squinting at me quizzically.
I wanted to laugh. Even when I was on the brink of tears, he could still make me laugh. He caught the hint of tears in my eyes when I looked up again. His forehead creased with concern and he briefly touched my face. Normally, I would have recoiled (just because I wasn't ready for such closeness yet). This time it didn't feel like a threat. It was reassurance, that I could speak and he would listen. This was something Charlie gave away far too easily when I talked to him. I wanted him to hear me. I didn't want to break whatever this was that had suddenly come over me. So I looked in his squinty eyes and mustered up a watery smile.
"For taking care of me."
Charlie grinned then and got such a pleased look his face that we both had to laugh. We smiled at each other for a moment then shared a goofily solemn nod. It was such a bizarre but undeniably fitting exchange.
When we faced the fire again, I dared to lean my head on his shoulder. It was only for a moment, but the feeling of his warm skin on my cheek, for that smidge of time, felt like an embrace. It was enough to satisfy us both. After a moment, I heard him sigh, long and slow. I could hear his smile, goofy and impish as ever when he finally replied,
"You're quite welcome."