A/N: I wrote this a few months ago and never got around to posting it because I didn't have a title for ages. So today I decided to type it up and use the first title I could think of, thus the lameness. If anyone thinks they have a better title, please let me know!
I hate thinking of titles. I either get one right away, or I finish the story and then spend days reading over it trying to think of one. Anyway, here it is.
Jack sits in his car and stares at the bench where Hurley says he talks to Charlie.
Jack doesn't know whether he wants to see Charlie or not. If he doesn't, he can carry on pretending to himself that Charlie is safe on the Island with Claire, and that it's not his fault that Charlie drowned on his orders.
Jack can pretend that he never remembered Charlie saying that he didn't swim on the day that Joanna drowned, that he didn't knowingly send the boy to his death by convincing himself that the needs of many outweighed the needs of a few.
He can try to block out his memory of the look on Claire's face when Hurley told her that Charlie was gone, and he can try to forget that he's off the Island because of a sacrifice Charlie made for someone else.
Jack can pretend that his need for rescue wasn't more important to him than Charlies life, that Charlie wasn't a sacrifice he was willing to make.
And yet, more than any of this, more than Jack needs to believe his own lies so that he can keep his sanity, he just needs to see Charlie.
Sometimes Jack worries that he can't remember what Charlie looked like, can't remember how his voice sounded.
Sure, he could always look up photos of him on the DriveSHAFT website, or listen to the albums he brought not long after he and the rest of the Oceanic Six returned to civilization, but that's not really Charlie. Not the Charlie he knew.
Sometimes Jack finds that he can hardly stand to look at Aaron, because he knows that this wasn't how it was supposed to be. It's all wrong. And he knows that, as much as he tries, he can never be Aaron's real father, because even though Charlie had no blood relation, Aaron will always be his son.
Jack can't help but feel shame when he looks at his fake family. Shame that makes his skin feel inside out.
Jack gazes at the bench and lets his mind play tricks on him. Every moving shadow makes him do a double take.
He can't recall what Charlie was wearing that day. He doesn't know what colour Charlies eyes were. He can't even think of the words to that song Charlie used to sing all the time. His bands first big hit.
Jack wonders what happened to Charlie's guitar. Whether someone has it and is treasuring it the way Charlie did, or if it is now lost, like it's previous owner.
No one talks about Charlie, apart from Hurley. It's as if it's simply too painful to even think about what the young man did for them. Their hero, the thought of whom fills them all with guilt.
More than anything, Jack wants to turn back time. He knows this but he doesn't let himself think it. On the Island, all Jack could think about was finding a way off. Back in the real world, Jack only wants to go back.
Jack wishes he had told Charlie not to go anywhere near the Looking Glass. He wishes that there had been no rescue.
Jack sighs and starts the engine of his car, pulling away from the curb. He's not the type of man to sit and stare at vacant benches, hoping to see dead friends. Hurley is crazy. There is no Charlie talking to him and giving him messages. There is no Charlie.
Jack jerks the steering wheel and the car swerves violently. He puts his foot down on the brake hard and the car skids to a halt.
There is no Charlie, yet here he is, sitting in the passenger seat, his feet up on the dashboard, dripping water over the cars upholstery.
"You wanted to see me," Charlie says.
Jack can't speak. He stares at the vision in front of him. Clothes and hair soaking wet, as if he had just climbed out of the ocean, Charlie gazes back at him, nonchalant. He's tapping his fingers rhythmically against his thigh and Jack notices that his DS ring is missing.
Charlie follows Jacks gaze and looks down at his hand. He flexes his fingers before curling them into a fist.
"Yeah, I left it for Aaron. I guess he never got it."
Charlie shrugs like it doesn't matter but the hurt in his voice makes Jacks stomach sink.
"My brother gave it to me because he said I was more likely to live till thirty. Ironic, huh?"
Charlie smiles humourlessly.
Jack feels another pang of guilt. He should have gone in Charlies place. He's at least ten years older than Charlie, and now, because of his extraordinary bad judgment, he would continue to grow older than Charlie. Charlie would never age. Charlie was frozen in time, in his memory.
"You're dead." Jack finds his voice.
Charlie shrugs again. "Maybe."
"Stranger things have happened, Jack." Charlie smiles at him slightly, a proper smile this time.
"Geez, do I have to slap you like I did Hurley? We were on the same island, weren't we? With all that odd, makes-no-sense stuff happening all the time? You should be used to this sort of stuff by now."
Jack can't help a grin as he shakes his head. It may be impossible that he's here, but it's the same old Charlie.
"I'm cold," Charlie says, wringing some water out of his t-shirt, "Can you turn the heater on?"
Jack looks at him, perplexed.
Charlie rolls his eyes, "In case you haven't noticed, I'm all wet."
"You can… feel?" Jack asks, the doctor in him marveling at the anomaly of the situation.
"Of course I can feel. I'm bloody freezing."
Jack obligingly leans forward and turns on the cars heating.
"So," Charlie brushes some damp hair from his forehead. "What did you want to talk about?"
For a moment, Jack can't think. Then it all comes flooding back. He wants to tell Charlie that he's sorry, that it was entirely his fault. He wants to ask Charlie to forgive him, but he can't find the right words.
He wants to talk to him about Aaron and Claire but the thought of bringing up the people Charlie left behind makes Jacks stomach squirm.
He wants to admit that he was wrong. He wants to ask Charlie if he's okay, but it seems like such a stupid question. Charlie is dead, whether he's sitting next to Jack or not.
"I…" Jack starts, but he's distracted by Charlie leaning forward, playing with the dials of the cars radio. Jack watches Charlie's fingers moving in awe. He's real. He's solid.
"I'm sorry," Jack says finally, his voice breaking. He's wanted to say this for so long.
Charlie all but ignores him. He twists the dial a bit more and the starting rift of You All Everybody fills the car. Charlie sits back in his seat, grinning.
"Listen to that," he says approvingly, "I'm still a rock god."
Jack doesn't know what to say, so he simply looks at Charlie, trying to memorize his image. Charlie turns to him.
"It's okay, Jack. I know you're sorry, but it's not your fault. Some things are meant to happen. Fate and all that bollocks. I knew what was going to happen down there. It was my decision. You can stop feeling bad now."
The two of them sit in silence until the song is over. Charlie strums an imaginary guitar and Jack tries to figure out what Charlie meant when he said he knew what was going to happen. The spinal surgeon and the dead rock star.
As the final chords begin to fade, Charlie leans towards Jack. His eyes are blue, Jack notes, as if this is very important, and staring at him with a burning intensity.
"You have to go back."
Jack was expecting this but hearing it out loud takes him by surprise nonetheless. Jack closes his eyes and takes a deep breath to steady himself.
"Why?" he asks, looking up, but Charlie is gone. The seat is wet and the radio is humming a new song that Jack doesn't know.
Jack looks around but he knows that there is no point. There's no movement anywhere outside his car. Charlie had vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.
Jack leans back in his seat and rests his head for a moment, inhaling and exhaling deeply. He thinks about how he once didn't listen to Charlie. It feels like so long ago that Desmond returned with Charlie's message. Charlie's final warning.
And Jack knows that he can't make the same mistake again.