Title: The Eighth Shift
Original post date: 25th March 2006
Spoilers: up to 2x12
Summary: When people start becoming inattentive when they're supposed to be on button-pushing duty down in the hatch, Locke decides that the best way to make sure it gets pushed is to roster people on for shorter shifts. Three guesses who is rostered on with Charlie…
Disclaimer: Lost doesn't belong to me or else there'd be a lot more peanut butter, Charlie and sex. Interpret that in any way you please.

Percy Sledge – When A Man Loves A Woman
Carole King – It's Too Late
Perry Como – Catch A Falling Star
The Crew Cuts – Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream)
Yann Tiersen – Sur Le Fil
Carole King – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Stephen Speaks – What'll She Look Like?
Damien Rice – Delicate

It all began when those doing shifts to press the button in the hatch began to fall asleep on the job. It didn't seem that vital – after all it was only pushing a button. Most people didn't even know why they were doing it and at first it was only one or two people who were nodding off or getting distracted by the record player and the books instead of paying attention to the computer.

But then the incidences began to increase. Locke became increasingly paranoid and moved off the beach and back into the hatch. When people started to go hungry again Jack coldly informed him that he would be of more use going out and hunting instead of pushing the button for other people who were just as capable as he was and were obviously just bored with such an apparently meaningless task.

'I'd rather be alive and hungry than dead,' Locke had informed him bluntly.

'Well then what do I have to do to get you to go out of that damned hatch?' Jack's voice had risen considerably and several people had turned to stare at him. He lowered his voice markedly. 'You're one of the only halfway decent hunters we've got John. Even if you were teaching other people how to track you'd be a lot more useful.'

Locke had paused for a moment before answering. 'You could put more people on roster for a shorter time. Less chance for them to indulge in other…distractions.'

'We'd have to get a lot more volunteers,' Jack pointed out. Locke merely shrugged.

'I'm sure we could find some.'

The First Shift.

Charlie was riffling through the record collection trying to find something, anything that he could listen to which wouldn't make him thoroughly depressed when he heard the door to the hatch open and close. Obviously his button-pushing buddy had arrived.

He wasn't exactly sure why he'd volunteered for this extra shift at all – it wasn't like there was anything interesting in the job and if he was completely honest with himself, Charlie was surprised he was even trusted to still be here in the hatch pushing Locke's precious bloody button. He had a feeling that Jack had pushed to have him rostered him on so that he would have something more constructive to do than mope around.

A set of footsteps came down the corridor towards him, tentative and slow. Charlie ignored them. Chances were that he didn't want to talk to whoever this was anyway and if it was somebody who didn't glare at him every few seconds then he might consider having a chat to them. Solitude always did strange things to him – as much as he enjoyed the self-inflicted pain of not talking to anyone, (only because no one spoke to him first of course) Charlie was also a lively and sociable person – at least when his mood called for it.

Of course, the lively, sociable part of him had been severely quashed in recent weeks.

Charlie shut his eyes, whipped out a record at random and without even looking at the title, positioned it on the record player and set the needle down gently, hopefully.

To his severe disgruntlement, the opening bars of "When A Man Loves a Woman" warbled out of the player.

When a man loves a woman, can't keep his mind on nothing else. He'd change the world for the good thing he's found…

'I just had to pick out the Percy bloody Sledge record,' he muttered darkly. He considered the slowly revolving disc for a long moment and then decided that he couldn't be bothered taking it off right now – he'd prefer even Percy Sledge to silence. Charlie began to flick back through the records, hoping to find something better.

The footsteps came wandering into the room and then they faltered and stopped. Charlie sighed mentally and tried to guess at who it might be – obviously they didn't want to come into the room with him. Either that or they were just startled to see him.

'What are you doing down here?'

His hand froze on The Drifters and then his head swivelled around, independent of the rest of his body.

'What are you doing down here?' he returned incredulously.

Claire stood in the doorway, her mouth slightly agape and glanced over her shoulder before returning her attention to Charlie.

'I'm on roster to push the button. I volunteered.'

'You? Volunteered?'

Claire scowled. 'Yes Charlie, I volunteered. I like to help out and this is a practical sort of job that I can actually do.' She raised a sudden eyebrow at him. 'Why did you volunteer?'

'I never said I volunteered,' Charlie said abruptly, turning back to the records and running his fingers down their titles, pretending he was looking for something.

'So what're you here for then?' Claire sauntered over until she was standing right beside him, her arms crossed imperiously over her chest. 'Hmmn?'

Charlie scowled, not looking at her. 'Are you trying to make this difficult?'

'Yes. I'm not in a good mood,' Claire said bluntly, then added, 'I wasn't expecting to find you down here.'

Charlie flinched and turned his face as far away as he could so that she couldn't see his flaming cheeks and the angry tears that had leapt into his eyes. He took a slow breath before speaking, afraid that his voice would crack.

'Well if you're here to help press the stupid button for your new boyfriend then I shouldn't keep you,' he said as spitefully as he could. 'I'm sure he doesn't want me getting my germs all over his precious button anyway.'

Claire sounded a lot calmer when she spoke. 'Well it might help if I knew where it was,'

Charlie actually laughed. 'What are you asking me for? You want me to give you a guided tour or something?'

'I was only asking a question,' Claire said coldly. 'And if you're going to be horrible about it then no I don't want the guided bloody tour, I'll find my way around by myself.'

Charlie busied himself with the records again but when Claire reached the door she called his name. He glanced up at her.

'Do you think you could turn that off by the way?' she nodded towards the record player where the first song was just coming to a close. 'It's an awful song at the best of times and it's giving me a headache.'

Charlie waited until she had left the room and then reached for the volume control and turned it sharply clockwise, grinning maliciously to himself but after several minutes he grew sick of trying to rile her up and began to feel guilty instead.

It was only after he'd turned the music down again that he heard her voice drift in from the computer room and for the next two hours he avoided her like she was the plague. He couldn't stand fighting with her anymore, and in any case – she'd never had cause to call him a bastard before.

He didn't like it.

Three more shifts passed in the same manner. They barely spoke a word to one another except for 'it's your turn to push the button next'. The only contact they had was the aforementioned conversations or when they passed each other in the narrow corridors. They also came to an unspoken agreement by the second week that when their replacements appeared to take over, Charlie would stay behind for several minutes so that they wouldn't walk back to the beach together.

Not that they would have had much of a conversation in any case – Claire was being thoroughly defensive and prickly and Charlie couldn't figure out if she was just trying to block any advances he might make towards rekindling their friendship or if she was just having a very long and severe bought of PMS.

And yet, surprisingly, she hadn't appealed to be rostered on at a different time. Charlie wasn't sure who had even rostered them on together in the first place – when he asked Jack all he'd gotten was a non-committal grunt and an impatient wave of his hand.

Charlie mulled the situation over a Carole King record during their fourth shift. He'd never much listened to her before but he'd soon come to conclusion that she wasn't half bad. He replayed "It's Too Late" several times through and hummed it as he made his way back to the beach several hours later.

It used to be so easy living here with you, you were light and breezy and I knew just what to do, now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool…

The Fifth Shift

Charlie arrived there early, as was his habit – he didn't really have anywhere else to be after all. The two who were on shift before him gladly abandoned their post and headed back to the beach together whilst Charlie seized the chessboard they had discovered hiding in a cupboard, reset it and began to play himself, pausing only to put a record on.

When Claire came in, the first thing she saw was Charlie peering thoughtfully at a half played game of chess rubbing his chin. She glanced around the room for a moment, wondering if perhaps someone else was here as well and playing the game with him, but then Charlie moved one of the white pieces and swiftly moved to the other side of the board to check himself with a black piece.

'Are you playing chess with yourself?' she tried to keep her voice neutral but there was still a touch of incredulity in her tone. Charlie seemed to ignore her for a moment as he peered down at his pieces, trying to figure out how to get out of check but then he glanced up at her.

'Do you mind?' he gestured at the board. 'I'm trying to concentrate here. This rotten sod I'm playing against has been winning every game.'

Claire couldn't help herself. She stared. Charlie returned her gaze unwaveringly for a long moment but then he blinked and his eyes were back on the checkered squares in front of him. Claire retreated swiftly into the computer room without another word and Charlie continued to play himself until their shift was up. He took an extra long time packing up the set when their replacements arrived and Claire went on ahead to the beach without him.

As was routine.

The Sixth Shift

The chessboard had been replaced in its cupboard and Charlie had to go searching for it. When Claire arrived he had finally grown bored of playing chess by himself and had started staging an extravagant battle between the black and white pieces instead, prodding them about with his fingertips until they met and then deciding which piece should win their imaginary duel.

'Hey Claire,' he said without thinking as she wandered through.

'Hi,' she returned half-heartedly and then peered at the chessboard. 'What are you doing now?'

'Duels,' Charlie explained quite unabashedly, prodding the remaining white bishop forward to do battle with a black castle. 'They get bored sitting in the middle of the squares all the time you see. Wanted to step out of the box.'

Claire frowned in a puzzled sort of way but then she nodded her head carefully. 'Okay... Um, I'll be in the computer room if you need anything.'

'Uh huh,' Charlie watched as the bishop and the castle sat there on the lacquered squares of the board. In his minds eye the black castle was winning the fight. Barely. 'Let me know when it's my turn.'

At the doorway, Claire hesitated and then headed swiftly for the bookshelf, running her finger along the spines until she found something that caught her eye. She pulled a random paperback off the shelf and snuck back into the computer room with it.

Charlie continued to play with his chess pieces for a while but after he'd had his first go at pushing the button, he found himself going back through the woefully small record collection. He was desperate for something different to do and something he hadn't listened to yet. He settled for Perry Como and settled back comfortably in his usual chair to listen, his eyes falling shut as he dozed.

It was when the last song began to play that Claire came padding into the room hurriedly. Charlie opened one eye and watched as she snatched the record cover up and scanned the tracklisting, a pleased smile touching her lips when she found what she was looking for.

'Something I can help you with?' Charlie offered lazily and Claire looked up, startled. It seemed she had forgotten that he was even there.

'Oh no. I just – like this song.' She hesitated for a moment before continuing. 'My dad used to sing it to me every night before I went to sleep. It's always reminded me of him.'

For love may come and tap you on the shoulder – some star-less night. Just in case you feel you wanna hold her, you'll have a pocketful of starlight…

Charlie nodded and searched for something productive to say. It was the longest and most polite exchange he'd had with Claire in a long while. 'My mum used to tell me to sing myself to sleep,' he offered. 'She reckoned I had a much better voice than she did, and that she'd just keep me awake for longer.'

A teasing smile touched Claire's lips. 'She must have been pretty bad at singing then.'

Charlie snorted. So much for civil conversation! 'Oh! Did you hear that? It sounded just like my self-esteem shattering into a million tiny pieces…'

'I was only kidding,' Claire said defensively.

'Yeah well recently when you've been making digs at me you haven't been kidding,' Charlie leant forward towards her and was pleased to see that Claire looked a little nervous. 'So I wasn't entirely sure whether you were taking the piss out of me just then or not.'

Claire paused to process this and then looked slightly guilty. 'I've been a bit…off form recently. I'm sorry if anything I've said has really upset you...'

Charlie didn't answer and Claire began to edge towards the door.

'Do you want to play a game of chess?' Charlie blurted out. Claire paused as the record player finished playing "Catch A Falling Star" and the needle lifted off and went back to its original position.

She bit her lip for a moment and Charlie held his breath.

Claire didn't look at him as she nodded but Charlie grinned all the same. 'Just one game though,' She warned.

Charlie hurriedly fished the pieces back onto the board and began to set it up again as Claire settled herself down opposite him.

'Black or white?' he asked.

Claire shrugged in a non-committal sort of way and Charlie rolled his eyes. 'Fine. Pick a hand it is.' He picked a pawn of either colour and held them behind his back. After a long moments deliberation, Claire pointed at his left hand and Charlie drew forth the white pawn.

'Blacks for me then,' he said as cheerfully as he could and swivelled the board around so that it was facing the right way. 'You start.'

The game passed mostly in silence, occasionally Charlie would ask her a question and receive a monosyllable answer or a half-hearted smile. It wasn't until he asked her who was looking after Aaron that her hand stilled and she actually looked up at him.

'Sun baby-sits him when I'm on duty,' she explained. 'John's hunting a lot nowadays – and he's teaching some of the others as well so…' she trailed off and Charlie nodded, not expecting her to keep talking. 'It's a relief to get away actually – from everyone. Not just Aaron.'

'Everyone except me,' Charlie said, surprising himself. 'You said that yourself.'

Claire's cheeks flushed slightly. 'Well its not like we ever really say much to each other anyway…'

'I've tried to start conversations with you!' Charlie protested. 'But every time I do, you just shoot me down!'

Claire stared at him for a long moment and then her eyes flickered down to the chessboard between them and the lack of white pieces. Her hand went back up and hovered for a moment, then with a decisive wrist movement she moved one of her remaining soldiers and then stood up to leave.

'Check mate,'

'What?' Charlie peered down frantically. She was right – game over. 'How'd you do that?'

Claire smiled mysteriously. 'I used to play with my cousin when I was younger. He was the chess champion at his school and…'

'I demand a rematch,' Charlie said instantly, beginning to reset the board. 'Come on – best out of three?'

The alarm began to sound and Claire went to the door – it was her turn to push the button this time – but before she disappeared, she glanced back at Charlie who was looking severely disgruntled and raised three fingers.

'Only three.'

Charlie's face split into a grin as she disappeared from the doorway.

The Seventh Shift.

Claire was already there when Charlie arrived – much to his surprise. She was curled up in a chair with her book from the week before and didn't even look up when he entered.

'Hey,' he said awkwardly.

She glanced up and offered him a swift smile before returning to her book. 'Hey. I've already pushed the button once so its your turn next.'

'Okay,' for a moment Charlie considered putting on a record but from the furrowed concentration lines apparent on Claire's brow he had a feeling that she wouldn't appreciate it.

At all.

Instead he made his way to the computer and sat down to watch the timer tick down to zero. When it was Claire's turn they swapped rooms and Charlie found himself at the record player again and pleased to find a song that he knew the words too – as useless as the lyrics may have been.

'Life could be a dream, if I could take you up in paradise up above. If you would tell me I'm the only one that you love, life could be a dream sweetheart...sh-boom, sh-boom, yadadadadadadadadada, sh-boom, sh-boom, yadadadadadadadadada…'

He shuffled across the room, nodding his head in time with the music and singing along. His hands went up in the air as he grooved his way around a chair and then began to head back towards the record player doing a barely credible moonwalk…

A stifled giggle from the door made him whirl around. Claire was standing there with her hand over her mouth. Charlie straightened up immediately. He'd never liked dancing when anyone else was watching – he'd been told on more than one occasion that his dancing was abysmal.

'Where on earth did you learn how to dance?' Claire laughed out loud. 'That was shocking!'

'Can you dance any better then?' Charlie tried to cover over his embarrassment. 'Go on, you show me how it's done!'

Claire rolled her eyes. 'As a matter of fact I can Mr Smartypants.' She took a step forward and did a quick time step before dropping her feet into fourth and doing a swift pirouette.

'I didn't know you danced!' Charlie said amazedly as she tried for a double pirouette and overbalanced.

'I used to when I was little,' Claire explained, flopping into a chair. Charlie sat down in his own chair so that he was facing her and leant forward so his elbows were on his knees. 'My mum made me do it for years but when I was about eleven I decided I didn't want to do it anymore so I stopped.'

Charlie's eyes sparkled. 'I was never any good at dancing but I was always very musical.'

'That why you became a singer?'

'Well, not really a singer,' Charlie amended. 'I wrote most of the bands material but my brother sang it – he had…charisma I guess you'd call it. He could really bring an audience in. I did back up vocals mostly – and I played bass. Oh, except for the chorus in You All Everybody – I sang that. That was mine.'

Claire chuckled at the possessive note in his voice. 'I see.'

'I remember getting really angry with him once when he sang it over the top of me at a gig,' Charlie propped his chin up with his elbow and stared into space. 'I was forever playing second banana to him. Writing music was the only thing I was ever better at than him and...' He glanced up at Claire and stopped very suddenly, looking uneasy. 'I don't know why I'm telling you all of this, it's not like you want to hear it anyway.'

Claire shook her head back at him. 'No, I want to listen.' When Charlie snorted loudly she rolled her eyes at him and continued. 'You've never talked to me about stuff like this before – everytime I ever asked you anything about yourself you'd crack a joke and change the subject.'

A silence fell and Claire looked awkward. But then Charlie smiled weakly.

'Sometimes my mouth gets away from me,' he explained, his gaze dropping to his knees. 'And I say things that I know I'll regret later – things that'll make me remember all the stupid decisions I've made and all the bad memories I wish I could forget.' He turned his eyes back to Claire's. 'Sometimes I lie and I don't really mean to – or want to for that matter. I just do.'

Claire was silent for a long moment and then she nodded and cut her eyes away.

'I guess I can understand that.' she stood up and made her way to the door, pausing with her hand on the frame. 'But…I still don't like it.'

Claire took Charlie's final turn at pushing the button that day – and she left without saying anything to him.

They didn't see each other at all during the week – being too busy with their own personal concerns and wellbeing, but all too soon the week had passed and with it came the advent of the eighth shift.

The Eighth Shift.

Charlie had long since decided that Carole King was far too addictive. She wasn't a singer he wanted to be caught humming along to but it seemed too late for that now. He muttered a few words of one of her songs as he entered the hatch for his eighth shift, planning to dig out her record and try and get the stupid bloody song out of his head for once and all.

'Tonight you're mine…give your love so sweetly…the light of love is in your eyes…will you still love me…Hmmn-mn…'


Thud, thud.


His humming was cut short however by the dull thudding of books. Charlie peered warily into the room where Claire was ransacking the bookshelf – presumably for the novel she'd started three weeks previously and not yet finished due to her stubborn insistence that it not be taken from the hatch and ruined by the sand and salt water.

'Are you okay?' Charlie asked, ducking closer. 'What're you looking f-?'

'I put it here,' Claire said, exasperated and shovelled an armload of books into Charlie's hands. 'Back where I got it from…do you think somebody borrowed it during the week or something?'

'Claire…' Charlie began, putting the books down on the floor and peering at her.

Claire scowled as she continued searching. 'It figures that I'd find something good to read and somebody else would steal it instead…'

'Well maybe I can help you look…?' Charlie reached a hand out to the remaining books on the shelf but as he took a step closer, Claire whipped around quite suddenly, putting a hand on his chest to push him away from her.

The sudden touch was like an electric shock. Charlie froze, one hand reaching past Claire's left ear to rest on the spine of "A Midsummer Nights Dream". Claire's face went from a moment of shocked anger and then it melted into something else altogether as she stared up at him, breathing heavily, her palm pressed flat against his chest, her fingers splayed…

The moment seemed infinite – they hadn't stood so close to each other in more than two months and Charlie felt dizzy in the wake of the familiarity of her smell, her touch, the feel of her breath on his face. Slowly, her fingers curled together, agonisingly bundling the fabric of his shirt into her hand. She was still breathing heavily and she still hadn't looked away – her eyes seemed almost crystalline in their intensity.

He'd never seen her like this before – she was so close to him that he could count the almost invisible freckles on her nose. And then there was her eyes – oh God her eyes were beautiful. They flickered with uncertainty and without even thinking what he was really doing; Charlie's free hand came up to touch her cheek reassuringly.

At his touch, Claire's eyes fell shut and she drew her face away a little. Charlie's fingers brushed lightly along her jaw line and then his hand fell awkwardly to his side. Claire's hand unclenched from around his shirt and they stood there for a moment longer, breathless.

After several deep breaths, Claire opened her eyes. Her gaze flickered from Charlie's eyes to her hand, still resting lightly on his chest, and back again as she tried to muster some form of coherent speech. But just as she began to say his name, his lips were in the way, pressing urgently against hers.

Her hand bunched back around the handful of shirt she'd been holding earlier quite instinctively as she pulled him closer. Vaguely she felt the shelves of the bookcase dig into her back as Charlie pushed her up against them. The force of movement separated their lips for a moment but then he was kissing her again, more fervently than before, his left hand was holding her hip firm; his right was still tangled in the shelves behind her but soon enough it was in action too, pushing her long hair back from her face and then his hips were there, grinding up against hers with enough force to make her gasp. He pressed his face into her neck as his left hand curved around her back and then down – his hips still pushing insistently against hers.

It wasn't until he began to mutter her name that she realised the reality of the situation. Suddenly she was terrified of what was happening – of what she wanted to happen…

'Wait,' she whispered desperately as Charlie pushed up against her again and rubbed a stubbled cheek against hers. 'I-Oh! Jesus…Jesus Charlie…Charlie…stop!' He stopped abruptly, painfully, the touch of his breath on her ear making her shiver deliciously as she continued. 'I just had a baby – like, less than three months ago…'

'I know,' he whispered and she could tell from the tremor in his voice that he was trying like mad not to keep moving. 'I was there remember?'

Claire shut her eyes and drew in a shaky breath. His fingertips were drawing illicit patterns on her skin as she went on. 'I know. It's just that – I don't know if we should…if-if I should…' Charlie gave a frustrated sigh and she continued to babble inanely. 'What if-what if my body's not ready yet? What if I'm not ready yet?'

'I'll be careful,' Charlie whispered hoarsely. 'I'll be so careful…so gentle…oh God…please Claire…'

Claire bit her lip and shut her eyes – in an agony of mind. The question was there, all she had to do was answer it; yes or no.

But it was never that simple was it? There would be repercussions just from this, kissing and touching and…

And she couldn't deny that she had enjoyed all of it. That if she had ever really wanted him to stop then she wouldn't have kissed him back in the first place.

And she had kissed him back.

Claire pulled back a little so that Charlie's ragged breathing was no longer hot on her neck. He stared into her face looking utterly dejected – convinced that she'd decided against it after all…

And then she murmured her assent.


Charlie smiled like the sun and leant forward to kiss her again, soft and gentle. Claire let her eyes fall shut and prayed that she wouldn't come to regret her answer but then his hand was on the back of her thigh and he was murmuring something into her mouth. After a moment, Claire understood what he wanted and her legs were around his waist before either of them even realised they'd moved, one, two. She laced her fingers around the back of Charlie's neck as he carried her down the dark corridor and towards the bunks...

The Ninth Shift.

He was sitting on the floor poring over a book when she crept inside. For almost a minute she watched him reading before he finally glanced up, his expression unreadable.

'Hey,' she said awkwardly.

'Hello,' he returned.

The silence between them built as they stared each other down. Claire took one awkward step towards him and this was enough to make him put his book down as she hurried over and then skidded onto her knees, throwing her hands around his neck and pressing her forehead against his, trying desperately not to cry out as he put his arms around her.

'What the hell is wrong with us?' she gasped, half laughing. 'As if this relationship wasn't fucked up enough as it was…'

Charlie chuckled back mirthlessly. 'Oh, I reckon.' He drew his face away from hers and smiled ruefully. 'I guess we need to do that talking thing now don't we?'

Claire quickly sat herself down and leant her temple against Charlie's shoulder, her right hand finding his left. They sat there for a long time, neither of them speaking

'What happened?' Claire said finally, her voice barely above a murmur. 'I mean, why would we just – it doesn't make any sense!'

'I think what you're searching for is the term "pent up sexual tension",' Charlie said derisively but then he sighed. 'Either that or we're madly in love. One or the two.'

'But…but…' Claire frowned at herself. 'I'm still angry with you. You lied to me – you took my son away from me!' agitated, she pulled her hand out of his and pushed herself a foot or so away from him so that she could glare at him. 'This doesn't make any sense Charlie!'

'I'm not saying it does,' Charlie said quite calmly. 'It happened – I'm not sure why either – but it did happen. The reason is irrelevant now, the only thing we have to figure out is what it means for us now that its happened.'

Claire flopped backwards, her hands over her face. 'God.'

'Are you sorry?'

Claire's head snapped up. Charlie met her eyes but only briefly before dropping his gaze.

'Because…I'm not.'

Claire didn't say anything.

'Look…Claire…I don't know where we go from here,' Charlie began inspecting his bitten fingernails intently. 'I wouldn't even mind just going back and trying a platonic friendship if it means we'd be talking again. I mean, we're both adults – this doesn't have to be an awkward thing between us.'

'Why did you lie to me?'

Charlie glanced up at this, surprised beyond all measure.

'Sorry, what?'

'Why would you lie to me about the drugs?' Claire repeated, her brow puzzling.

Charlie hesitated and then dropped his eyes again. 'Claire…'

'You want to try for any sort of a relationship, platonic or otherwise?' Charlie nodded slowly. 'Then you need to talk to me Charlie. I need to understand what the hell was going through your head when you took Aaron from me. I need to understand why you would seem to care so much only to blatantly lie to me…' Charlie's eyes dropped even lower. 'And I-I don't – I'm not sorry it happened. Charlie…'

There was a long pause in which Charlie froze, hardly daring to believe, and then Claire reached out and touched the back of his hand.

'Please talk to me. It's the only way we're going to figure all of this out. I'm sick of fighting with you and I'm sick of wondering why.'

Charlie took a deep breath. And then another one. And then, another one.

Claire fought down the urge to laugh at his nervousness – she had a feeling that she was either going to deeply regret or be very glad for this conversation.

When their shift was up, the two of them walked back to the beach for the first time in nine weeks – talking all the way. Charlie even went so far as to walk her to her shelter and – to the astonishment of many – they put their arms around each other in an awkward hug before he departed for his own shelter.

A week later, they walked to the hatch together to take their tenth shift. When they came back three hours later, they were smiling tentatively at each other and she even kissed him lightly on the cheek as he departed.

After their fifteenth shift together, Charlie moved his things back up the beach.

Their thirtieth shift together never happened – both of them were too concerned with the increasing swell of Claire's belly to worry about such trivial matters as the hatch and the button inside anymore.