Variations of Hope

A/N: Set during Episode One of Season Four. A missing conversation between Desmond and Hurley as they walk to meet up with the other Losties following Desmond's return from the Looking Glass. Focused, of course, around Charlie. R&R!

Desmond trekked onwards, twigs snapping under his feet. He could hear Hurley trudging along behind him. Only Hurley could make that much noise walking through the jungle, and yet the silence between them was reaching breaking point, the unasked questions seemed heavy and Hurleys eyes on his back were making it hard for Desmond not to think about what had just happened.

Charlie was dead. It should have been a relief. No more visions, no more playing God over someone else's life – a job that he had never volunteered for. No more watching that poor kid die over and over again. But in truth it was worse. He couldn't get the image of Charlie's hand pressed against the glass out of his head, warning him that it wasn't Penny's boat, still thinking of others even as he drowned.

Hurleys voice broke through Desmond's depressing thoughts, "You were with him, right?"

Desmond didn't turn around. He pushed a branch out of his way and kept walking. He should have gone instead. He knew this. He knew that the hero had died and the coward had lived and that this wasn't how it was supposed to be. He shouldn't have let this happen.

"Charlie," Hurley continued, as if Desmond might not have known who he was talking about, "You were with him when he… you know. He wasn't, like… alone?"

Hurley sounded so forlorn and the mention of Charlies name out loud was almost too much. Desmond's stomach felt like concrete and he could taste the guilt and regret in the back of his throat. How could he tell Hurley that he had watched his best friend die alone in a room filling with water? That he couldn't reach him, couldn't save him?

Desmond had known when he picked up the fire extinguisher that it would be no use, but he had buried those thoughts away as he slammed it against the window again and again, while it mocked him with not even a scratch to the glass. He had been determined, at that moment, that fate wouldn't win, that he would change it, because if he couldn't save Charlie, if Charlie couldn't escape his fate, then what hope was there for him? What hope was there for any of them?

And then he had seen Charlie disappear under the rising flood, and hope had left him. His brief flash of determination flowed from him onto the cold metal floor at his feet. He had known then. There had never been any hope.

Desmond felt his fingertips tingle as he recalled touching them to the glass, reaching one last time for Charlie. Desmond had tried, but it wasn't enough. In his mind, Charlie was still trapped, alone in the control room, drowning because he had had faith in a false prophet, because he had believed in Desmond. Right now, Desmond didn't even believe in himself. How could he, after all that had happened? If he was being tested, then he had failed. He couldn't help but feel that fate was simply playing a cruel game with all of them, and when he had tried to cheat… well, Charlie was still gone.

"No," Desmond replied finally, struggling to push the words out past the lump in his throat. "He wasn't alone."

At least, he thought, he could offer Hurley the small comfort of thinking that Charlie hadn't had to face death by himself.

"Did he know?" Hurley asked quietly, "Did you see it?"

Of course he had seen it. He may as well have been Charlies very own angel of death. Desmond had thought that he was ready. He had watched Charlie die five times already, but even that hadn't prepared him for the finality and emptiness of his actual demise, for the pain of losing what was arguably his only friend on the Island, if you could base a friendship around death.

And he hadn't given a thought to what it would be like telling the other survivors, who had known Charlie longer and were closer to him in ways that Desmond never would be. And yet, Desmond had been the one to share death with Charlie. It was a closeness like no other, terribly intimate and fragile.

He didn't want to talk about this with Hurley. It felt private, something meant to be between himself and Charlie, but this was Charlies best friend, the only person Charlie had gone to when told of his imminent death, a real friend who had tried to help Charlie, not a crazy Scotsman who had flung himself unwanted into Charlies life, raving about visions and doom.

"Aye," Desmond said, his voice hushed. "He knew."

There was a long silence as Desmond waited for the inevitable question, for Hurley to ask why he hadn't done something to stop it, to ask why he hadn't saved Charlie, when he had been the only one who could.

"So, he chose it?" Hurley asked carefully.

Desmond blinked, caught off guard. Did Charlie really choose death over life? To Desmond it seemed that fate had forced his hand. There had been no real choice for Charlie, except maybe how and when, and really, even that had been up to Desmond, but he couldn't tell Hurley that.

"I suppose he did," Desmond said flatly.

They don't talk to each other for the rest of the walk, but after a moment Desmond hears Hurley muttering something to himself under his breath.

"You make your own luck, you make your own luck…"

Desmond just trudges onwards, resigned to a future where fate makes his choices for him, ignoring Hurleys optimistic mantra. He can't bring himself to crush Hurleys false hope.