The Hardest Word

Summary: After the parachutist has been saved, Desmond struggles to patch things up with Charlie. This story begins immediately after the events of D.O.C. Desmond narrates.

Characters: Desmond, Charlie, Hurley and Jin.

Disclaimer: I don't own Lost.

Author's Notes: Okay so I needed a relief from the angst of Trials of Fate. This is mostly a Chesmond humour fic with a little bit of emotion thrown in. I wanted another go at writing Desmond narration and this time I wanted to make Desmond funny, seeing as I always write him as tormented and depressing. So here is my best shot. I hope it amuses.

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Hurley helps me carry the girl over the stretcher we've built. The girl who isn't Penny. The girl who was never bloody well going to be Penny, whether I let Charlie die or not. She is sleeping now. I won't bother her till we get back to camp. Then I'm bothering the heck out of her. She may not be Penny, but she has our photo and she said my name. After three years that's enough to tide me over.

But I can't think about that now, because Jin is babbling to me in Korean. I just smile at the man and nod my head politely, wondering why he is wasting his time speaking to me in a language that I plainly don't understand. I have seen Jin chatter like this with Hurley and Charlie, but they always respond to him. Either they've picked up some Korean in the last few months or their bizarre imaginations are just making up the conversations they'd like to hear. Aye, I'm thinking probably the latter.

"Look mate, whatever you're fretting about, I'm sure we've got it covered," I say, trying to reassure him. "Now we need to be making tracks if we want to get back before nightfall. Come on, Charlie! We're moving out."

I turn to see Charlie sitting on a log on the far side of the clearing. He has his guitar in his lap and is fiddling with the tuning keys. Now what is he doing way over there? Why isn't he helping us with the stretcher? Oh…that's right. He was helping until I shooed him away about ten minutes ago. I might have shouted at him a wee bit. Well, he wasn't tying the knots properly. Jin had told him twice!

He doesn't answer me when I call to him. It would appear that he is sulking. I turn to Hurley and smile incredulously.

"Is Charlie not speaking to me anymore?" I ask, a little nervous, shaking my head. "Now what have I done to deserve that…"

Hurley frowns and tips his head to one side.

"Oh, I don't know…maybe he's, like, still upset because you lied to him and almost got him killed with Rousseau's trap…"

I swallow. I should've known that little incident hadn't slipped by Hurley. He's sharper than he looks. So he's figured out that I came close to letting his mate take an arrow in the neck. He looks a tad disappointed in me.

"Dude…that was not cool," he mutters.

Well thanks for your expert opinion, Hurley. Like I even need to be told that? It's not like I felt good about lying to Charlie and leading him on. But still…I wasn't gonna stand back and let him die. I'm not really sure what I was planning to do. I knew that I had to bring him along. I had to keep the picture the same.

Jesus…I'm glad I pushed him out of the way in time…

"So here's an idea," says Hurley. "Why don't you go over there, tell him you're sorry and then we can all head off back to camp."

I raise my eyebrows. He wants me to say sorry? I've saved Charlie's life no less than four times and now Hurley thinks I need to apologise to him? Christ, if I was still in the army I'd have a medal pinned to my chest by now. Instead I'm getting a lecture and a condescending look. But damn it…the man is right.

I wander over to Charlie, forcing a smile till my jaw is aching. Hmn. Maybe I don't have to get down on my knees here. Maybe a little friendly banter will coax him along. Me and Charlie argue all the time. It doesn't mean anything. We are both just hacked off with this situation we're trapped in. We have to let off steam sometimes. Or most of the time. But we can always go back to having a polite conversation afterwards. We're British! Gotta keep that stiff upper lip.

"We're ready to take the patient back to camp…" I inform him, smiling pleasantly. "How is your own casualty doing there?"

Charlie lifts his head and scowls at me. So I guess I'm not supposed to make jokes about the sacred guitar. Looking at it now, his instrument does seem in a bad way. The body is all soused and cracked from the rain water. One of its strings has snapped and two of the frets have been displaced. He is fingering the gash in its neck where the arrow struck. The arrow that was meant to hit Charlie...

His quietness is worrying me now. This is not like him. Come on, Charlie. Get on your feet and shout your head off at me. Have a good old rant about all the things I've been doing wrong. You'll feel better for it. Then when you're done we can all get a bloody move on, yeah?

Apparently not. It looks like I went too far at some point. What was it I said to him? "I was supposed to let you die, Charlie..." Yeah, that was it. Christ, I'll admit that was a foul thing to say. And all that stuff about it being a test from God too. I was getting carried away there comparing myself to Abraham. Though I have to say I'd like to see how Abe would've fared in his test if he'd had Charlie as his kid. Isaac might've been a sweet wee laddie, happy to put his trust his old man, but Charlie would have given him grief every step of the way, asking pesky questions and making huffy demands. And if by some miracle Abe had managed to reach the top of that mountain, no way would Charlie have got on that altar. Charlie would've told him to "Sod off" and kicked him in the balls. Charlie isn't anybody's lamb to the slaughter. He stands up for himself and protests his rights.

Damn it…I kinda like that about him.

I sigh wearily. I believe I also told Charlie it was pointless saving his life. That it wasn't doing any good. Maybe that's the truth of the matter, but it was pretty heartless of me to say it. Hurley is still throwing me reproachful looks. This kinda reminds me of my mum waiting for me to apologise to one of my younger brothers after I've been mean to them. I better just get this over and done with.

I sit down on the log beside Charlie and clap a hand on his shoulder. This makes me feel a wee bit strange. I've seen this man struck by lightning, smashed against rocks and skewered with an arrow. Sometimes I can't quite believe he's still here.

"Hey pal…listen I'm…"

Charlie shrugs off my hand and stands up, slinging his guitar over his shoulder. Oh, there's maturity for you. If he's gonna act like a spoilt brat, then I'm not troubling myself with him. He stands with his arms folded, looking haughty and indignant, waiting to hear what I've got to say. I'm sorely tempted to whip out my machete, wave it in his face and tell him to get his scrawny arse moving.

"Look, I haven't got time for this!" I yell, rising to my feet. "I'm tired! Hurley and Jin are tired! Two nights without any kip. We're all bloody stressed and knackered. So what do you want from me, Charlie? I'm sorry, alright! I'm sorry I lied to you. I'm sorry I didn't warn you about the arrow. I'm sorry about all these deaths I keep seeing for you. I'm sorry I can't stop it. There! I said it…"

Charlie looks down at his shoes. His lips are pursed and his tongue is pressing against the inside of his cheek. He doesn't seem angry anymore. It just seems like I've hurt his feelings and that's the last thing he needs on top of everything else he's facing. I wince and try to think of something kinder to say, a little terrified by the prospect of him in tears.

"So do you forgive me or what?" I ask him, my voice softening. "Come on, brother. Will you let me save your life again?"

That gets a smile. Charlie raises one eyebrow.

"Maybe..." he answers, playing along now. He shrugs his shoulders. "I'll consider it. Seeing as you asked me nicely..."

I smile back like he's doing me a big favour. "Well, that's relief. Because I've got bugger all else to do on this island."

"Yeah, that's true…" Charlie rolls his eyes as he realises how ridiculous we are sounding. "Come on, Des…"

We wander over to the stretcher. Hurley is laughing at us and shaking his head. Jin is looking perplexed by my outburst, but seems reassured by Hurley's amusement. He smiles broadly trying to share in our humour. I quickly find myself laughing too and Charlie is the next to crack up. Our laughter doesn't really make any sense. This situation with me and Charlie isn't the least bit funny…but if we didn't laugh we'd cry, yeah?