Disclaimer: LOST is the property of ABC.
Dan doesn't realize it until afterwards.
The sky turns searing white-purple and the people in the raft with him scream, talk too fast, shout questions at him, but then the light radiating from everything -- land water sky, maybe even them -- is too much, and then the sound starts. Except it's not really a sound, it's more like...like if a sound were everything, if you could see and taste and smell and feel it, too. And he can feel it. Too much. If it goes on another moment, he's sure the deep, pounding thrum in every cell in his body will tear him right apart into myriad sparkling particles of sound and light.
For an eternal second, he can't breathe, or all he's breathing is purple and white and blindness.
And then everything stops, and the raft rocks back and forth a little, water slapping on the sides as it yaws. For one long moment, that's all there is, jumping water and blue blue blue all around. Then his passengers start talking again, asking questions, and he just lets the babble wash over him as he cranes his neck in every direction, searching for the plume of black smoke that had been the freighter, that he hadn't decided what to do about yet.
Even before he's covered all 360 degrees, he knows it won't be there. He thinks he might even know how, and that he was a fool to think he could get away. So there's nothing he can do but turn back, back to the island that's still there (or maybe it's that mercifully they're still there).
Most of his passengers are too confused, too shell-shocked, to jump out and help him beach the Zodiac. He struggles with it, mostly alone, waist deep in water that's rougher and colder than it was fifteen minutes ago. Salt splashes in his eyes like tears.
And then, suddenly, he's not alone, and Charlotte and Miles are hauling on the rope with him, and the three of them don't say a word to each other but Charlotte's eyes flick to meet his for a fleeting second, too brief for him to put a name to the emotion rippling under the surface of her expression.
"Change your mind?" Miles asks when they finally pull the raft onto the sand. His tone bleeds irony, and Dan wonders if Miles knew this would happen, that all of this has been a fool's errand.
So Dan just shrugs. "You could say that."
And then there's Charlotte, brushing her hair out of her face and looking at him. Her lips part uncertainly, and for a second he wonders if she's thinking better of what she wants to say, if maybe she'll stick to platitudes before walking away to get this new life of hers in order. But instead she hooks a thumb into one of her belt loops and raises her eyebrows. It looks like she's trying to shield herself from his reaction with her usual sharp angled and jutting nonchalance. "It's not that I didn't want you to get away from this place, Dan."
He gives the raft one last tug before dropping the rope, stepping towards her, and pulling her into a hug. She wraps her arms around his neck tightly and he can't help burying his fingers in her hair, and she whispers fiercely in his ear, "But I'm glad you didn't make it."
And that's when he realizes -- so is he.