Characters: Desmond, Charlie, Locke, Claire, Hurley and Jack.
Author's Note: It's finished!! Thank the Lord...
Desmond never really slept through the nights anymore. His worries kept his mind and his senses ticking over. He would need to get up every few hours and pace the beach before he could settle down again. And on this particular night it was very fortunate that Desmond kept this habit.
Charlie was out of bed too. In slow footsteps he was drifting over the sand towards the jungle. The baby was nestled in his arms. Desmond swallowed. He had feared that something like this might happen. He hurried across the beach to intercept Charlie. Suddenly a hand caught his arm.
"Shhhhhh…" a voice hissed into his ear.
It was Locke. By suspicious coincidence he was awake too.
"He's sleep walking," Locke warned, nodding towards Charlie. "If you wake him too suddenly he might drop the baby."
Desmond frowned, annoyed by Locke's presence, yet the hunter was right. Charlie's eyes were heavy-lidded. He was walking like one in a trance. They approached him slowly, cautiously. As they drew nearer Desmond heard that Charlie was murmuring feverishly under his breath. He couldn't make out the actual words, but he sounded distressed. Locke moved round so he was blocking Charlie's path. Then in one swift movement he lifted the baby from his arms.
Aaron squealed loudly, disliking being snatched and jostled about. Charlie let out a yelp, his eyes flying open and his hands flailing. Desmond quickly circled his arms around Charlie's chest and pulled him back so he didn't hit the baby in his panic. Charlie began to struggle and protest.
"Let go! Get off me!" he cried. "There's danger! The baby's in danger! I need to help him. I need to take Aaron to the…"
"It was just a dream…" Desmond soothed.
But Charlie wouldn't pipe down. His shouts soon had most of the camp out of their beds and rushing over to see what the trouble was. Claire arrived in a fit of worry. She ran up to Locke and he passed Aaron back to her. Claire flinched and took a nervous step back as Locke turned to Charlie.
"Aaron's in danger!" he repeated. "I have to save him!"
The onlookers exchanged some very disturbed glances when they heard Charlie yelling this. Locke tilted his head, intrigued.
"What did you dream, Charlie?" he asked. "What did you see?"
"This isn't your business, boxman!" snapped Desmond.
Locke crossed his arms. "Well Desmond, if you're gonna take charge of this situation it might interest you to know that we have had a little incident like this before. You wouldn't know about that, of course. You were busy floating around the island in your sailing boat when it happened."
Desmond frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"A few months ago Charlie was taking the baby from his crib in the night and saying that he needed to save him. Only the last time Charlie was on drugs. Or at least…we thought he was. Maybe we were wrong." Locke fixed his eyes on Charlie once more.
"What did you dream?" he asked again.
Charlie opened his mouth, eager to answer.
"Don't!" Desmond warned, his voice sharp. "Don't tell him anything. Come on, brother…let's just get back to bed, yeah?"
Desmond accompanied Charlie and Claire back to their tent, keeping a cautionary grip on Charlie's arm. Claire tucked her wailing son back into his cradle, rocking him and shushing him, trying to get him to settle. At the same time Desmond sat Charlie down on Claire's mattress. The young couple were sharing a bed now, but that didn't mean that their relationship was progressing in any sort of coital sense. Charlie and Claire didn't even kiss on the lips anymore. They were more chaste with each other than ever since Charlie's return.
Charlie had lost so much memory that he had become like a child. He was much quieter and meeker than the brash young man Desmond had known a month before. He didn't mingle with the group as much. He spent most of his time in Claire's shelter playing with Aaron or strumming his guitar. He wouldn't engage in conversations and it only took the smallest thing to upset him. Often Desmond would find Charlie sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, crying softly into his hands. Desmond would put an arm around his shoulder and ask him what was wrong. Charlie would just shake his head and say that he couldn't remember.
Maybe Charlie didn't remember in his head, but there was still something inside him, some instinctive knowledge, that was making him fearful. It was as though his mind was being haunted by some strange presence that he couldn't put a name to. Desmond knew its name. He knew that it was Jacob who was sending these dreams and making Charlie sleepwalk. He was trying to confuse and manipulate him just as he had done to Desmond with the flashes.
"Listen brother, whatever visions you're having…just ignore them, okay? They're just dreams. Nobody is in danger."
Charlie winced, shaking his head.
"It didn't feel like a dream, Des. It felt like someone was trying to send me a message. Maybe these dreams mean something!" Charlie peered over Desmond's shoulder to where Claire was trying to calm the baby. "Aaron's still crying, Des. Why is he still crying? There's something wrong!"
"Aaron's fine," Desmond assured him. "The wee chap is just a little scared over being woken up in the middle of the night."
"In my dream Aaron was really sick. He needed medicine…a special medicine…if he doesn't get this medicine he's gonna die!"
This caught Claire's attention. She came to kneel beside them.
"Medicine?" she said, curiously. "Do you mean the vaccine? Charlie, we have got a whole case of the vaccine right here!"
"Claire, it doesn't do anything," Desmond muttered. "It's a placebo."
Claire shot him a look of irritation as if to say 'He didn't need to know that!' But it didn't matter. Charlie was shaking his head.
"No, not the vaccine!" Charlie insisted. "That's not the medicine Aaron needs. We need to take him to a place called 'The Staff' out in the jungle. That's where the real medicine is. Aaron needs to go there!"
Desmond shook his head, firmly. "Listen to me, brother…you can't take the baby into the jungle. There's too much danger. We have to keep Aaron here on the beach to protect him. That's the best way."
Charlie frowned. "You think so?" he said, uncertainly. "Well, what if I went and got the medicine and brought back it here?"
"Forget the medicine!" Desmond snapped, causing Charlie to flinch. "It was a dream! Don't think about it. Go back to sleep."
Charlie still seemed unhappy and now a little resentful, but he grudgingly lay down on the mattress and pulled the blanket up to his chin. Desmond and Claire exchanged looks of concern. Then they moved a few paces away from the tent and spoke with each other in tense nervous whispers.
"This has happened before…" Desmond began.
"Yes," Claire said, tightly. "But I don't want to talk about it."
He nodded. "Right…but I was thinking…I could move my stuff closer…set up camp near your tent. Just in case it happens again."
"No, Desmond!" Claire hissed. "I can take care of this myself. I can be a heavy sleeper sometimes, but I'll just…"
Claire sighed. Her sentence trailed off.
Desmond and Claire had formed a truce since Charlie's return, but there was still a straining tension between them. They both felt responsible for what had happened to Charlie and wanted to help with his recovery, but like warring parents they often had different ideas about what was best for him. And at the same time they were frustrated that Charlie's memory was showing no signs of returning. It seemed the damage done by the black smoke would be permanent. It pained them that Charlie was alive and yet there was still so much of him missing.
Lately Claire had become fiercely possessive of Charlie and grew jealous whenever she thought Desmond was muscling in on her caretaker role. It reminded Desmond of the way Charlie himself had once been with Claire. They had swapped roles. Losing Charlie had made Claire so much more devoted to him. Claire wanted to be the one who cured Charlie of his amnesia. Sometimes she would look stung if Charlie seemed more familiar with Desmond than he was with her. And she was still mistrustful of Desmond's connection to Charlie.
"Okay then…" Desmond said, wearily. "But can you promise me one thing? If Charlie has any more of these dreams or visions…just make sure that he doesn't act on them. You got that, sister?"
Claire frowned. "But what if the danger is real, Desmond? Aaron's been sick before, you know…maybe he does need…"
"It's not real!" Desmond insisted. "I promise you."
Claire shook her head, annoyed by his mysteriousness. "What's going on, Desmond? You know something, don't you?"
He swallowed. "I can't tell you. It's not safe to tell you. It would just put you and Charlie in more danger. You have to trust me!"
"Frankly Desmond, I'm struggling with that..."
They fell silent and glanced back to the tent. Charlie was lying on his side, his eyes fixed intensely upon Aaron's cradle. Claire returned to her shelter, climbing into left side of the bed so that she lay between Charlie and Aaron. She took hold of Charlie's hand and held it close to her chest.
Desmond sighed and walked away.
Charlie spent the next few days worrying himself sick over the baby. Every time that Aaron so much as coughed, he would be thrown into turmoil and start screaming for help. Jack and Juliet would visit their tent regularly and reassure him that the baby had no fever, he had no rash – he was in perfect health. But Charlie would still be watching Aaron with those large nervous eyes of his, convinced that there was something very wrong with him.
Claire encouraged Charlie to spend time away from their tent. She suggested that he helped Jin with the fishing, telling him that he used to enjoy doing that. But Charlie didn't like going near to the ocean anymore. Although he claimed not to remember drowning, he seemed to have developed an instinctive fear of water. He was always the first to take shelter when it rained.
Claire was slowly becoming exhausted. Charlie wanted to stay close to Aaron at all times and yet Claire didn't dare leave him alone with the baby in case he was taken by one of these strange visions. Desmond would offer to take Charlie hunting, but Claire didn't trust Charlie being in his company either. She seemed to believe that if she let them go off together, Desmond might return without Charlie and tell her something terrible had happened to him.
One morning Desmond was woken by the sound of Claire screaming. When he arrived at her tent, he saw that Claire was kneeling by Aarons crib, covering it with her arms to protect the baby that lay inside. Jack, Sayid and Sawyer were restraining Charlie close by. Though he was much smaller than the three men holding him they were still having a difficult time keeping him under control. Charlie was frantic and hysterical as he yelled his usual proclamations about Aaron being in danger. In the end Sawyer pinned his arms to his sides while Sayid hoisted his feet of the ground. Jack told them to take Charlie to his tent.
"No Jack!" Claire protested, shaking her head. "Leave him alone!" In a small voice she added; "I don't want them to beat him up…"
Jack knelt beside Claire and squeezed her shoulder.
"Claire, it's okay. Nobody is going to hurt him. Charlie just needs to calm down. He needs time to recover. I'm going to help him, I promise. But I think it's safer to keep him away from the baby for now."
Claire closed her eyes and nodded reluctantly. Desmond knew that it must be tearing her apart to have to choose between Charlie and her son, but Claire wasn't physically strong enough to control this situation. Jack assured Claire that he was going to look after Charlie and then made his way over to his tent, which doubled up as the camp's infirmary. Desmond followed him.
They stepped inside the tent to find Sayid and Sawyer holding Charlie down on the makeshift bed. Desmond was suddenly reminded of his vision of Charlie in the temple where he had seen him being pinned down by the Others and threatened with a shot of heroin. He tried to imagine this situation from Charlie's perspective. Once again he was amongst a group of strangers who were (in his mind) preventing him from saving a child. It was the same thing all over again.
Desmond watched as Jack took out several strips of the material that they used for bandages. He passed them to Sawyer and instructed him to tie Charlie's wrists and ankles to the struts of the bed.
"What are you tying him down for?" Desmond objected, shaking his head. "You don't need to do that! He's just…"
"Restraints, Desmond," Jack reasoned. "We used them in the hospital all the time to ensure patients didn't injure themselves."
Desmond paced the tent, seething with frustration. Jack opened his pack and took out two sedatives, handing them to Sayid with a bottle of water. He told Sayid to make sure that Charlie swallowed them both.
"Oh, now you're drugging him," Desmond muttered. "Listen, this is going too far! Charlie will be fine if you just let me…"
"I want you out of here, Desmond!" Jack snapped.
Desmond frowned at him. "Excuse me?"
Suddenly Jack was on his feet, grabbing hold of Desmond's shirt and forcing him out of the tent. Jack was a strong guy and Desmond was too shocked to resist him. When they got outside Jack shoved him hard in the chest.
"Stay away from him!" Jack barked. His eyes were bright with anger. His voice was stern and menacing. "I mean it…"
Desmond shook his head in confusion.
"What is this, brother?" he stammered. "I'm the one who rescued him. I found him and brought him back. He's my friend…"
Jack's face twisted into a look of reproach.
"Desmond…for weeks you were telling Charlie that he was gonna die. You told him that you were having visions of him dying, over and over..." Jack shook his head in disgust. "You had the poor guy so convinced that he was willing to drown himself, because he didn't think he stood any chance of surviving. Don't you see what you did? You practically drove him to suicide!"
Desmond felt like he had been punched in the stomach. Jack knew. He supposed it made sense that Jack knew. In the month that they all had believed Charlie to be dead, Jack had spent a lot of time comforting Claire and Hurley. One of them had probably let slip about his flashes while they were upset. Desmond didn't blame them for that. He was surprised Jack hadn't confronted him about this before. It was clear he held Desmond personally responsible for Charlie's drowning. Desmond could not even bring himself to object to the accusation. Jack had voiced all the worst things that Desmond had thought about himself.
Jack sighed heavily. "Desmond, I understand that after three years stranded on this island you must really be losing your mind by now. I can't do anything about that. But I'm not gonna let you mess with Charlie's head any longer. Do you understand me? You've done enough damage."
Jack scowled at him again and then turned away.
"No…wait…" Desmond said, feebly.
"Stay away from Claire too."
Jack slipped through the flaps of his tent and left him standing alone. Desmond crossed his arms over his chest. He felt shattered and friendless. He wandered away from the rows of tents and found a private place to sit in the sand. They all blamed him for what had happened to Charlie. Jack, Claire…everyone. What hurt the most was that Desmond considered Charlie his closest friend on the island, yet in Jack's opinion Desmond had pushed him into drowning. Just when the loneliness was almost driving him to tears, Hurley came and sat beside him. The young Latino was looking troubled as he glanced at Jack's tent.
"Dude…this is what it was like in the mental hospital," Hurley muttered, solemnly. "Every so often a guy would freak out and they would drag him away to some room. They would strap him down and dose him up with meds. You'd hear him crying and moaning when you passed by…"
Desmond frowned. "You were in a mental hospital?"
Hurley's face grew serious. "I'm not crazy."
He nodded, acceptingly. "Neither is Charlie."
Desmond was sleeping when she came to him.
"Help me! Please you've got to help me!"
He felt a desperate hand tugging his arm and a breathless sobbing voice in his ear. He opened his eyes to see Claire kneeling beside him.
"Claire…what happened?" he asked.
"I…I woke up and his cradle was empty…then I went to Jack's tent, but Charlie wasn't there! They're both gone. Charlie and Aaron!"
Desmond sat upright, his pulse racing. "But Charlie…Charlie was tied down on the bed…in Jack's shelter…" he stammered.
Claire shook her head in confusion and anguish.
"Someone must've untied him! I tried to ask Jack, but he…I couldn't wake him up! He was all woozy. I think somebody drugged him…"
Desmond's blood ran cold. Somebody had drugged Jack, untied Charlie and then taken Aaron. Desmond could think of only one person who might be possessed to do that. Jacob's right hand man. Locke.
"Please Desmond…" Claire pleaded, still tugging at his sleeves. "Please help them. You…you're the only one I trust!"
Desmond smiled weakly. It was a fraught moment, but it still touched him to learn that beneath her cool front of resentment Claire really did have faith in him and trusted him to save Charlie.
"Do you know where this medical station is?"
Claire nodded, rapidly.
"Lead the way then, sister…hurry!"
Desmond and Claire ran together through the darkened jungle. Despite the shadows and the tangled trees, the Aussie lass seemed to know her way to the station by pure instinct. She could probably find it blindfolded. Desmond was just praying that they made it there in time. He didn't know for certain, but he could guess the real reason that Jacob wanted Aaron to be brought to 'The Staff'. It was the same reason that he wanted Boone brought to Question Mark and Charlie brought to the Looking Glass. Jacob was demanding a sacrifice.
When Desmond and Claire reached the station they saw the hatch doors flung open and a light flickering from inside. For a moment he thought they were too late. Then they ran inside and found Locke was walking down the corridor with one hand resting on Charlie's back. As Desmond and Claire entered, they turned. Charlie was clutching Aaron to his chest. He looked pale and tired, his eyes slightly dazed from the pills that Jack had been feeding him. Locke however was very much alert. He took a gun from his belt and raised it at them.
"Stay back, Desmond…" Locke said sternly. "This is not something you're meant to interfere with. Charlie is supposed to bring Aaron to this station. The island is telling him what needs to be done…"
Desmond shook his head. There was no reasoning with Locke when he entranced by fate. He had learned this when he had witnessed him smashing the computer which had caused the hatch implosion.
In desperation he turned to Charlie.
"Please brother…don't listen!" said Desmond. "This isn't the way to save Aaron. You're just putting him in danger!"
Charlie shook his head, his eyelids fluttering.
"I'm just gonna…Aaron just needs medicine and then…then he'll be okay. Then we can take him back to the beach…"
Charlie stepped into the room at the end of the corridor where the light was flickering. Inside this room there was a stainless steel table with a pneumatic injector lying on its surface, primed with a vial of dark yellow liquid. Charlie laid Aaron down gently on the tabletop, pulling the blanket away from his chest and then lifting the needle. Then he paused for a moment, staring at his reflection in the silver steel and frowning as though troubled by some lingering doubt.
"Charlie, please don't do this!" Claire begged.
Desmond took a step forward, but Locke raised the gun again.
"I will kill you…" he threatened in a low voice.
"No, he won't," Claire spat with contempt. "That's what he said to Jack. He doesn't have the nerve, Desmond…"
Desmond nodded. He and Claire started to stride past Locke together. Then something happened that stopped them both in their tracks. Charlie threw the injector against the wall. It broke into pieces, its vial leaking over the floor. Charlie lifted Aaron from the table and backed out of the room.
"It's poison," he murmured. "Not medicine, poison…"
Charlie's voice trembled. His face was contorting with a ghastly realisation. And now Desmond understood why Charlie had been screaming and struggling when he was in the temple. He understood why Charlie had been crying and worrying over something he couldn't quite remember. Deep down Charlie knew what Jacob had been planning. He knew that Jacob would force him to offer Aaron as a sacrifice so that he could take his life and rise again. Charlie looked like he might be sick. He bowed his head with shame and passed Aaron back to Claire.
"I'm sorry…" he said, wretchedly.
Claire was too relieved for a moment to respond to Charlie's apology. She stroked Aaron's head and kissed him. Desmond started to lead Charlie and Claire away from the station when Locke called to them.
"No…wait…" he stuttered in confusion. "That can't be right...it can't! Jacob wouldn't want a baby to be poisoned. This is a test! Like God tested Abraham. I'm sure! It was fate that brought us all here tonight…"
Charlie wheeled around, his eyes blazing.
"Jacob wanted a sacrifice, Locke!" he raged. "He doesn't care if that sacrifice is me or Boone or an innocent baby! Jacob only cares about saving himself. It's got nothing to do with fate! Fate was a big con!
Locke looked as though he had been punched. When Charlie spoke the word 'con' his eyes filled with tears and he slowly sank to the ground. Desmond thought of the time that Charlie had called him a coward. He had an uncanny ability for choosing those words which cut straight through you. Locke let the gun slip from his hands and then huddled against the wall weeping. None of them went over to console him. They all turned their backs and left him there. Desmond didn't believe there was anything he could do for Locke. The man had followed fate so blindly, regardless of the victims it took. He would always have to shoulder the guilt of Boone's death, the friend he had sacrificed to the greedy soul of the island.
Claire walked several feet ahead of the two men as they made their way back to the beach. As they walked Desmond kept glancing at Charlie. Already he sensed a change in him. He seemed older and more troubled.
"You remember now, don't you?" he asked, tentatively.
Charlie nodded, though he kept his eyes lowered.
"How much?" Desmond probed.
"Too bloody much," Charlie muttered.
Desmond sighed. "Well, it's a good thing that you did remember, brother," he said. "You saved that baby by remembering…"
Charlie scowled and shook his head. "Aaron wouldn't have been in any danger in the first place if it hadn't been for me!"
"You weren't doing it on purpose, you were…"
"It was still my sodding fault!" Charlie hissed.
Desmond caught hold of his arm and looked him in the face.
"Was it my fault you drowned in that station?" he asked.
Charlie seemed perplexed by the suggestion. "Of course not…it wasn't your fault, Des…Jacob was messing up your head with those flashes…"
"Well then," Desmond said pointedly.
Charlie nodded and fell silent. The two men stepped out onto the beach. Claire was already back at her shelter. She was tucking Aaron into his crib, looking lonely and vulnerable. Charlie watched her longingly.
"Don't make the same mistake I did, brother," Desmond told him quietly. "Don't turn away from her now. She won't turn away from you. She knows that you're a good man, Charlie. She still loves you."
Charlie smiled faintly and glanced at Desmond.
"You know, Penny loves you too, right?"
"What?" Desmond was startled. Suddenly he remembered how Charlie and Penny had spoken to each other before Mikhail had flooded the coms room. Desmond had spent many sleepless nights wondering what Penny had said. Now Charlie had regained his memory he finally had the chance to ask.
"The transmission…did Penny say that she…"
Charlie's smile lengthened. "Well, we didn't have much time for sweet nothings. But I could see it in her eyes, Des. I think you were right. She is looking for you. One of these days she's gonna find you, mate…"
Desmond felt his head lightening and his heart fluttering in his chest. He allowed a contented smile to spill over his lips. Charlie gave him a short nod. He was about to leave and make his way over to Claire's tent when Desmond suddenly pulled him into a hug. He did it on a friendly impulse, but it wasn't until Desmond was in the embrace that he realised it was a very long time since he had hugged anyone. He smiled again, holding onto Charlie for a moment longer.
"It's good to have you back, brother…"