the moon shifts the sea the sea shapes the shore the shore shakes the sand the sand sinks the ship

He knows now that his entire life has been leading to this moment and the decision that he'll make -- is making, was always going to make, already did, maybe before they even got here (to this island or this point). Disparate threads, each strand of experience, led him to this as surely as the sun rises and sets and burns through matter at four million tons per second and sends light speeding across space-time to fall across the Earth and this island, and the two of them here.

(maybe it's technically one of them; maybe now there is no them, and it's only him)

That light is soft, Daniel notices; filtered by the canopy, it's like everything is bathed in a fuzzy, green-gold haze, like the light in dreams and not at all like the light in nightmares (which this is). It falls across Charlotte's hair and brings out hidden golden glints (which he's never noticed) and makes the rest look like burnished copper (which he has), and it blends the colors of the rust red blood with her skin and she doesn't look so pale; and she almost looks like she'll sit up in a minute and smile at him and tell him she's fine, just a bit dizzy, just a little headache; except her eyes -- her eyes that were the first thing he noticed about her, beautiful and water-blue and full of sly wit and intelligence, but something else too; kindness and curiosity and a lingering interest in him -- her eyes are open and blank, empty of everything, and there's a little blood crusted in the corners.

Dan's breath hitches -- he's crying without quite realizing it -- and he reaches out a hand to close her eyes. For a second, when he sees the dirt blackening his fingernails and blood (Charlotte's blood, it comes to him starkly and makes all of this suddenly more real) gummed in the creases of his skin, he hesitates; doesn't want to dirty her face, but then gently, carefully, he places his fingers on her eyelids and pushes her eyes shut and he doesn't know if he's being respectful or selfish, if he's giving her some dignity in death or if he just can't bear seeing her lifeless stare.

For a second he tries to force himself into thinking she just looks like she's sleeping, but there's really no mistaking that she's gone -- her expression is too slack, there's none of the energy that she had even in stillness, even when she slept.

He let her die, and he broke his promise. The depth of his pain surprises him, because he knows he's mostly numb; he knows that in the minutes and hours and days and weeks ahead that there will be blissful split seconds where his memory hasn't caught up with reality and he'll need to tell her something or put an arm around her or just look at her, and he won't be able to because he let something happen to her. It was in her eyes -- the barest flicker of hope -- that at the end he could be some kind of knight in shining armor for her, that despite what she knew was happening to her his promise had the magic necessary to save her.

It didn't. He's alone. He abandoned her, and he'll never forget the black shadow of terror in her eyes. His knees ache but he doesn't move them, using the dull ache and bleeding cold of the muddy ground as redirection, as some sensation to pull his mind from the yawning chasm of grief opening up around him. They crack and sink further into the mud as, shaking, he leans over Charlotte and presses his lips to her forehead and then her still wrenchingly warm lips and it's not quite a kiss because he can't make his muscles work the way they're supposed to; like his neurons won't fire correctly and his brain isn't working quite right.

So maybe that's why it comes to him, when he straightens up and smoothes her hair back from her face, that this moment has been waiting for him, and he knows what he has to do even if he doesn't know how to do it. There are rules, rules that will make it difficult but not impossible -- no, rules can be changed, rules are what he's spent his whole life ignoring.

He won't abandon Charlotte, not in the end, and he doesn't give a damn about the consequences and the ripples he'll send out to shift time and history if it means he can save her. If he can twist the past and bring her back there are no consequences that mean anything to him.