The Trials of Fate
Characters: Desmond, Charlie, Hurley and Claire.
Synopsis: Set a few days after 'Flashes before your Eyes'. Desmond, the man who spent three years saving the world by pushing a button, is now battling against fate and the universe…but he is slowly losing his hope.
Author's Note: Warning! Be prepared for dark themes and heavy angst. Some readers might find parts of this story disturbing. But if you like your Desmond tortured and despairing then this the fic is for you.
Disclaimer: I don't write for Lost, but if anyone would like to offer me the job…
Desmond sat across the entrance to his tent, his back propped against the nearby tree and his rifle resting in his hands. Charlie lay in the small space inside his shelter, his hands tucked behind his head, his knees drawn up to his chest and his eyes lingering over the palm leaves that hung above him. The two men had been in these positions for several hours now, during which time darkness had fallen over the beach camp and its inhabitants had settled down for the night.
Desmond felt strangely like he was guarding Charlie. He supposed that was exactly what he was doing. Guarding him from whatever form of potential death was coming for him next. Guarding him from the new assassins the universe would send to correct its course. Desmond had sobered up now. He was feeling ready to meet any challenge that fate could throw at him. He glanced at Charlie. The young man was squinting at him, his face pinched with confusion.
"Why?" he asked in a whisper.
Charlie didn't need to elaborate. Desmond understood what he meant. He wanted to know why Desmond was going to such lengths to save his life. It was a fair question. Death was common to the castaways now. Desmond had arrived at their camp in the middle of a funeral. Only last week he had helped to bury their priest. Why should one more death matter so much to him?
The simple difference was that every morning Desmond was waking up with this man's death on his brain. Charlie's death and nobody elses. He was being given a unique opportunity to let him live for another day even if come tomorrow Desmond would have to save him all over again.
These flashes had given Desmond a sense of purpose, which he had not felt since his days of saving the world down in the hatch. If anything this new mission held an even greater importance to Desmond. Every time he saved Charlie, Desmond was changing fate. And if Charlie's destiny could be changed then there was hope for Desmond too. Hope that one day he could see Penny again. Hope that after all that had happened they could still be together. Hope that every one of them could escape from this island, return to their homes and forget this nightmare.
If Charlie died then all Desmond's hopes would perish with him.
Earlier that day, the stress had become too much...
Charlie had been coping rather well so far. The morning after Desmond had told him about the flashes, Charlie had been quiet and remote. Desmond had chosen to leave him alone, imagining that he was still in shock. After spending a little time with Hurley he had brightened up considerably. It seemed his friend had encouraged him to live for the moment and not allow fear of death to oppress him.
Desmond wished he could embrace their philosophy, but he was older and more wearied by these trials of fate. He anticipated that Charlie's cheerfulness would be short lived. The flashes hadn't stopped. His life was still in danger and the universe wasn't relenting. Desmond knew it was only a matter of time before the shock and denial wore off and the fear came crashing down.
"Desmond dude…you had better come quick…" said Hurley, waking Desmond from his afternoon doze.
Desmond could hear raised voices in the distance. He followed after Hurley and soon caught sight of Charlie and Claire, arguing the middle of the crowded beach. Charlie was weighted down with luggage and was walking away from their shelter. Claire had hold of the handle to his guitar case and was dragging him back. The Australian girl had worked herself into a furious temper. She was demanding to know why Charlie had been ignoring her and Aaron for the last few days. Why he was now moving his stuff away from their tent. Why after all the affection he had shown them was he suddenly abandoning them without explanation.
When Charlie protested that she wouldn't understand, Claire started tugging at his sleeves. Charlie flinched at her touches, seeming distressed by her closeness. He kept glancing over his shoulder or sometimes straight up in the air as if he was expecting sudden death to fall out of the sky and crush them both.
People were standing around in clusters watching their quarrel with interest, but not surprise. Desmond supposed that the camp had witnessed fights between this young couple before. Several of the watchers were shaking their heads at Charlie. He heard Paulo mutter something Nikki about the washed up junkie being back on his heroin. Desmond felt like punching his lights out. Instead he hurried over to where Charlie and Claire were struggling and forced them apart.
"It's not safe, Des!" Charlie started yelling the moment he arrived. "You've got to make her understand! She won't listen to me!"
"What's he talking about, Desmond?" Claire screamed into his other ear. "There's something is going on. Why will nobody tell me?!"
Desmond felt like he was settling a fight between two of his younger siblings. They were both overwrought and hysterical. He took Claire by the shoulders and gently pushed her away from Charlie.
"Get back to your tent, Claire," he instructed her firmly. "Go back to Aaron."
Claire stared at him with the same look of frustration and resentment that he had seen on Charlie's face the time that Desmond wouldn't let him take care of Claire after her drowning. Desmond knew that these two had a tight bond. They instinctively wanted to pull together and be close to each other. But Charlie was right. It just wasn't safe for them anymore. The universe had already tried to use Claire as bait to lure Charlie into the ocean. Desmond couldn't keep rescuing them both at the same time. But if Claire kept her distance she should be alright.
The girl looked upset and a little intimidated. Reluctantly she moved back and joined one of the huddles. Desmond turned to Charlie.
"She doesn't understand, Des," said Charlie, despairingly. "She thinks I'm walking out on her and Aaron like the last guy did. But I'm not! I would never do that. I'm doing what I have to do to protect them!"
"I know, brother. Calm down will you..."
Charlie's face was clammy and pale. The dark circles under his eyes suggested that he hadn't slept since the night he had learned of Desmond's prediction. Now exhaustion was weighing heavy on him and panic was taking hold.
"I can't breathe, Des," Charlie gasped. "My hearts going too fast…I can feel it…that's not normal is it? I think it's happening now, Des…"
Desmond took the luggage out of Charlie's hands and forced him to sit down before he fainted. The young man was trembling and sweating, his shoulders tensed up and his breath coming out in short rapid gasps.
"Can't breathe…" he wheezed. "Des, if it's happening now will you at least tell me! I can't stand this…it's too much…I'm gonna…"
Desmond noticed that his fingers were clawing at his neck as though an invisible cord were being tightened around it. Desmond lifted his gaze to the crowd of bystanders, who were watching all this in confusion.
"He's hyperventilating! Can somebody get me a…"
It seemed like Sun, the Korean woman, was one step ahead of him. She came running over to them carrying an Oceanic sickbag, obviously salvaged from their plane crash. Desmond held Charlie's head still and placed the paper bag over his mouth and nose. He leaned in and looked him in the eye.
"It is not happening now, Charlie," Desmond assured him in a hushed voice that the others would not hear. "When I see it happening, I will tell you and we will figure out a way of stopping it, alright?"
Charlie's breathing slowed down but the terror didn't leave his eyes. Desmond had suffered from panic attacks himself in the past. He knew only too well from his own experiences that there was little he could say or do to take away that awful feeling of impending doom. Especially in Charlie's case. It probably didn't help that his camp mates were standing around gawking at him.
"Shows over, folks," said Desmond. "Go back to your own business."
Charlie seemed greatly relieved when they started drifting away. Desmond removed the paper bag and sat down beside him, placing a hand upon his shoulder and trying to rub some of the tension out of his back.
As they sat there together in the sand, Desmond found himself remembering the time when his youngest brother was being bullied at school. When he had discovered what was going on Desmond had rung the teachers and demanded that something be done about it. But every day his brother would come home to him with fresh bruises and nosebleeds, struggling not to cry. There wasn't anything that Desmond could do to stop it. He was working so hard just to pay the bills and keep food in their cupboards, that he didn't have time to go to the school himself. All he could do was comfort his little brother. He couldn't stop what was happening to him.
Desmond looked over his shoulder and saw Hurley hovering near by. He remembered that Hurley was the only other person who knew about Charlie's situation. Desmond called him over and asked him to take Charlie's things to Desmond's own tent. Hurley nodded and did as he was told. Desmond took Charlie by the arm and helped him to his feet. When they reached the tent, Desmond and Hurley suggested Charlie take a lie down and get some sleep if he could. Charlie numbly obeyed, his eyes downcast and his expression almost catatonic.
"Dude…about the breathing thing…" Hurley murmured to Desmond. "I think there's something you should know..."
Hurley proceeded to tell Desmond about a near-death experience that Charlie had suffered only two months ago. He described how Charlie had been kidnapped by the Others and was later found hanging from a tree by his neck. Apparently their doctor had managed to resuscitate him, but it had been a close call. Hurley was concerned that Charlie might be reliving his hanging. He was particularly worried about these lapses into catatonia, which Charlie had been prone to before.
"You seem to know a lot about it, brother," Desmond remarked.
Hurley shrugged. "I spent a little time in this psyche ward…Santa Rosa…"
Desmond frowned. "What? You mean as a nurse?"
"As a mental patient," he corrected him.
Desmond blinked with surprise. Hurley sighed and continued.
"Listen dude, I'm telling you...I've seen guys in less freaky situations than Charlie just check out of reality. They become like zombies. It's no way of living, man…"
Desmond nodded, understanding what Hurley was driving at. This wasn't just a matter of keeping Charlie alive. They had to keep him sane as well. Desmond thanked Hurley for his advice and then politely asked him to leave. As much as he appreciated his help, Desmond wanted to take this responsibility on himself…whatever it entailed.
As the night grew darker, Desmond felt his hope waning. Doubt and despair were clouding his mind. The evening's shadows were stretching over the beach like the dark gloved hands of murderers. The world beyond his fragile shelter seemed brutal and merciless. He could not hold off the danger. If anything Desmond had only made matters worst for Charlie. Because now it seemed like every time he cheated fate the universe was growing more unsettled. Its attempts to take Charlie's life were steadily becoming more vicious and disturbing. Every time Desmond succeeded in saving Charlie, a darker death would rise up in his mind.
Desmond glanced at his companion again. Charlie had rolled over onto his stomach and his eyes had fallen closed. It seemed like exhaustion had finally overwhelmed him. He looked peaceful in his sleep. Almost serene.
I shouldn't have told him, Desmond scolded himself. No matter how much he pestered me I just shouldn't have told him...
Desmond hadn't known Charlie for long, but it didn't take a genius to work out that this was a man of a nervous disposition and perhaps not the most emotionally stable person on the island. Telling Charlie about his imminent death was an unnecessary cruelty. Desmond had been selfish and yes cowardly in telling him. He had wanted to let somebody else into his nightmare. A braver man would have allowed Charlie live in blissful ignorance until it happened…because it was going to happen. There was nothing Desmond could do to stop it.
There was nothing more he could for Charlie. Unless…
Desmond swallowed, tears filling his eyes. He felt his hands trembling on the rifle he held in his arms. It seemed like the only choice he had left. Maybe this was the real reason he had brought Charlie to his tent tonight. A subconscious decision to resolve this problem before the fate sought to punish him for his interference. Slowly he rose to his feet and levelled the gun at Charlie's forehead.
At least this way he wouldn't suffer. He wouldn't have to feel the threat of death looming over him. And Desmond wouldn't have to witness his death over and over in his head. It was too much. It had to end now.
Charlie stirred in his sleep. Desmond's finger froze upon the trigger. He watched intently as Charlie's expression began to change. A small smile crept across his lips. A smile suggesting that Charlie had escaped into a place in his dreams where he still felt safe. A dream with Claire and her baby perhaps. A dream that had given him hope in spite of the whole universe conspiring against him.
Desmond sank to his knees. He could not kill a man who still had hope. And besides, if Desmond shot Charlie now he had better have another bullet ready for himself, because there was no hope for any of them if fate could not be altered.
They were on this path together now.