Title: Lesser of Two Evils

Rating: PG-13/T

Summary: Charlie and Mikhail square off but can Mikhail be trusted to leave and never return?

Characters: Charlie, Mikhail, Desmond, Hurley, Jin

Warnings: Drug use. Spoilers up to 3x18 D.O.C.

Word count: 1648

Disclaimer: Taking out my Lostie dolls again, but just to play. I still don't own them.

Author's Note: This is not exactly a sequel to When All Else Fails since it takes place earlier in time when our group is still in the jungle, but it includes the Desmond apology that was widely requested. You ask, I deliver.

"I did as I promised. She will live."

Charlie felt a mild swell of panic as the man with the eye patch stood and began to slink away into the dark cover of the jungle. He put his hand out to stop him.

"You can't seriously be considering letting him go," he said to Desmond.

Desmond turned to the man. "Just go."

Charlie couldn't believe his ears. They had caught one of them, the man who had shot Sayid. Clearly this man was a threat, and Desmond was going to let him just walk away. Charlie seethed. Sayid had known better; they had taken this man prisoner, and had held him until they used him to test the electric fence and then left him for dead. That was all these people were good for. Unfortunately for them all, he hadn't died. Charlie was wishing that Sayid was here now. He wouldn't allow this travesty of justice to take place.

"Are you kidding?" Charlie challenged. "He's one of them!"

"So what would you have me do, Charlie," countered Desmond. "We've got to make a stretcher and carry her, how are we gonna do that and bring a prisoner?"

There were four of them. Charlie knew it would only take two to carry a small woman in a stretcher. He didn't know what Desmond was playing at.

"Give me some rope, I'll take responsibility," he replied.

Their argument was cut short by Jin, who had dug his hand into the parachutist's bag.

"Phone. Phone!" he cried as he took off running towards the man who was now quickening his pace.

"No, Jin," shouted Desmond, following. "Jin, it's all right."

"No, let him Desmond," said Charlie, grateful to have Jin on his side.

The three took off in a chase.

"Jin, come back here!" said Desmond.

Charlie ran, leaving Hurley to stay with the injured woman. "Oi! Let him!"

Up ahead, Jin tackled the man and stopped him. Desmond was on them in seconds.

"Jin. It's all right, Jin. Let him go," he ordered as they struggled. "Let him go!"

Jin moved around Desmond to the man with the eye patch and grabbed an object from his hand.

"Phone!" he proclaimed, holding it up for Desmond and Charlie to see.

Charlie stepped forward, amazed that this red handed thief was just standing there, smirking. His brazen arrogance only made Charlie angrier. He took the phone from Jin and confronted the man with it.

"You stole this?" he said.

"How could you respect me if I didn't try?" said the man.

He was so smug that Charlie couldn't have been more furious if he had insulted his mother. Charlie locked on to him and raised himself up while lowering his voice.

"How 'bout I take your other eye?" he asked. "Would you respect that?"

The man put his hand to his ear in a mocking gesture. "Sorry, what?"

Charlie lost control and lunged at him, arms straight for his neck, but was stopped in mid-air by Desmond.

"Charlie, don't," he ordered, holding Charlie back with all his force. "Charlie, let him go!"

"This is a mistake!" Charlie yelled, panting. "We can't keep letting these people go!"

"We gave him our word," said Desmond. The Scot then turned to the man with the eye patch and said, "Go on. Get out of here."

Charlie eyes shot daggers as the man gave one last satisfied grin and then strode away. He refused to tear his gaze from the shrinking form until he was completely gone from his sight, swallowed up by the darkness. Then he turned his glare on Desmond.

"We should get some sleep," said Desmond. "We'll make a stretcher and head back to camp when the sun comes up."

Jin placed his hand on Charlie's shoulder and gently guided him back to where the injured woman lay.

He was having the dreams again. They had become so familiar that by now Charlie was aware when he was dreaming. Each time they began differently, but they always ended the same. Charlie was in some danger, and then he was in pain and finally the heroin.

He had successfully beaten his addiction in his waking state, of that he was rather proud. The drugs no longer occupied his every thought, no longer made his body go mad, but instead they had burrowed somewhere deeper and taken root in his subconscious, the final battleground in his personal war. They came out to play in his mind when he was particularly anxious about something. He never told anyone about it, because he knew no one would understand. They would only fear that he was using again, or at least wanted to very badly, and that was bad enough.

Charlie dreamt that he had been hit in the chest by Rousseau's arrow, but he didn't die, he just lay bleeding in excruciating agony. As he screamed and twitched he somehow knew he was alone, no one for miles. Suddenly he felt a balled up lump in his hand. He raised his arm and saw the heroin and instantly his pain was replaced by a burning desire. He tore the bag open, had a fix and then relaxed in the gratifying warmth.

His guilty pleasure was interrupted all at once by the sensation of being yanked upright. Someone was grabbing him. Charlie struggled to orient himself quickly and call for help. As he yelled he felt cold steel press against his throat and his arms wrenched behind his back.

Everyone had now awoken and stood in a tense circle, surveying the scene. Charlie didn't need to have eyes in the back of his head to recognize the accent and know who held him.

"Give me the phone," said the man with the eye patch and an unsettling calm.

Desmond, Jin and Hurley stared. Charlie could see Hurley clutching the bag with the phone inside. His friend had been sleeping on it like a pillow to keep it safe, but his efforts mattered little now.

"Give me the phone," he repeated and pressed the knife into Charlie's skin.

Charlie clenched his teeth and groaned as he felt the sting and the trail of warm blood. Hurley was reaching into the bag, prepared to do anything the man asked.

"No, Hurley," said Charlie. "Don't give to him."

"Dude, he's gonna kill you," whispered Hurley.

"It doesn't matter," Charlie managed with a sharp hitch of breath as the knife slid deeper. "I'm dead anyway, Desmond said so. You need the phone. Don't give in."

Hurley looked at Desmond and Jin who both seemed to be paralyzed by the decision. Charlie began to feel lightheaded as the shoulder of his t-shirt grew saturated and sticky. He steeled himself and waited to be slaughtered at the hands of a madman, telling himself that if it led to their rescue that he won't have died in vain.

Then, just before his eyes closed and his knees gave out he heard Desmond speaking. "Hurley, give him the phone."

Hurley wasted no time pulling the phone from the bag and stepping forward with his arms raised in submission.

"Place it at my feet and step away," the man instructed.

As soon as Hurley stepped back Charlie felt the grip on his arms loosen. He waited another split second until the knife was pulled back and then his anger overtook him, filling him with adrenaline and a new strength. Charlie spun round and landed a punch to the man's face. His satisfaction lasted only another split second before he felt himself being flipped in the air and slammed down flat on his back. When the spots cleared from his vision he saw a smug face and a bloody nose inches from his own.

"And that, I respect you for," the man said.

Charlie watched from the ground as he picked up the phone and walked away.

He said nothing as Desmond cleaned and bandaged the knife wound. He sat on the sidelines until he felt strong enough to help Jin and Hurley with the stretcher, and when they were finished they began the trip back. Each of them took one pole end while the woman rode inside. Charlie and Desmond were in front.

After an hour Charlie finally spoke. "Why'd you do it?" he asked Desmond. "Why'd you give him the phone?"

"Because I knew the phone wasn't the thing that would lead to our rescue," he said simply. "You are, Charlie"

It wasn't the answer he had expected, not after what had happened the day before.

"Me?" he said. "How?"

Desmond shook his head. "I don't know how but I know that the only way we're going to get rescued is if you're there. I can feel it. You need to stay alive."

Charlie felt a surge of bitterness over Desmond's latest revelation. "That's not what you believed when you were ready to have me skewered to death," he remarked. "You said you were supposed to let me die."

Desmond stopped walking and turned to face him for the first time. Charlie saw the regret in his friend's eyes and perhaps for the first time he understood the anguish that Desmond was going through.

"I'm sorry," Desmond said. "I was wrong. Sometimes I don't understand the flashes, or what I need to do. But I understand now. The visions are telling me I need to save you. And I will, Charlie. I give you my word."

Charlie didn't know what to say. His trust had been damaged no doubt but was it irreparable? He wondered whether Desmond could be trusted now. As he nodded in acceptance of the apology and they walked on Charlie realized the leap of faith he was being asked to take. He couldn't explain it but he felt it would be the first of many that would lead to salvation.