Summary: When a young Aaron begins to ask question about his father, Claire finds herself in a difficult position as her mind wanders to the man whom she had loved and lost so long ago.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of Lost - they belong to the superbly kick-ass Lost writing team, as well as their respective actors that I fawn over.
A/N: This is the first fanfic that I have ever written for Lost, and I did my best with it. I've been a huge Charlie/Claire shipper for years, and still regret that we didn't get to see them go on and start a family with Aaron. This idea came to me when I thought about whether Claire would tell Aaron about Thomas or Charlie when he asked about his father, something which he would inevitably do as he got older. I also mention in this story that Kate moved to Australia because of a strained relationship with Sawyer, which alludes to another one-shot that I am currently writing. Anyways, I apologize for the length, and if you get a moment I would really appreciate any reviews. Enjoy!
Filling the Void
It was something that she had been constantly anticipating, a question that she knew would one day be asked no matter how hard she tried not to think of it. And yet, she had refrained from mentally preparing herself for those words that would leave that mouth, full of a curiosity that would pull at her heartstrings in ways she didn't think possible, a curiosity that would open up old wounds that hadn't entirely healed.
Over the years, Claire Littleton had broken into a routine – picking up her son from school on the way home from work, a small supper thrown together in less than an hour, followed by a quick cleanup. Everything that she ever did involving housework had always been done in a manner that required the least amount of time and effort – Carole Littleton may have been a single mother herself, but she had not had enough time to pass on any of her skills onto her rebellious daughter. Even though her mother had tried to become involved in her life after the crash, Claire still maintained that rebellious, independent side of her that tried to do everything on her own. A trait that had only intensified during her three years spent alone on the island.
Claire carried the dirty plates from the kitchen table over to her kitchen counter, preparing to immerse her hands into a sink full of dishwater. As routine, a small body pressed up against her leg, a small head turned up towards hers expectantly. She smiled, absentmindedly running her hand through the blonde curls that so closely resembled her own.
"Mommy," Aaron mumbled slowly. "I want a story."
That sweet, childlike voice was always enough to melt Claire's heart, no matter how many times that she had heard it. "Later, sweetheart," she assured him. "Let me finish cleaning up first. Why don't you go watch TV?"
Aaron hung onto her leg for a moment or two before Claire heard him scamper off into the living room, followed by the sound of cartoon characters whose voices she was familiar with, but whose names she always mixed together. Sometimes she felt like a bad mother for passing her son off to the television set, but there was only so much she could do with only two hands.
When finished with the dishes, Claire wrung her hands of water, wiping them dry on a dish cloth on the counter next to her, glad to have gotten another daily chore out of the way. "Aaron!" she called out to the living room. "Time for bed!"
The sound of scurrying footsteps brought a smile to her face. It had been years since she could get that excited over something as simple as story time – she preferred not to think of the day when Aaron would lose that innocence.
In the time that it took Claire to make her way into her son's bedroom, he had managed to put on his pajamas, pick out a stuffed animal and crawl his way under his covers. Claire wouldn't be surprised if he had managed to brush his teeth as well.
"What is it tonight?" Claire asked, looking at the bookshelf next to his bed. Aaron had more books than she had ever had as a kid – she wouldn't be surprised if he was reading full-length novels by the time he was ten. Although, to be fair, it was her, and not the five-year old, that was doing all the reading. Claire ran her fingers over the book covers, looking for something that she hadn't read too many times. "How about something new? Grandma and Kate got you some new books for your birthday. Maybe we could read those."
Claire felt a small tug at her shirt and turned to face her son. "A real story, Mommy."
"A real story?" she asked confusedly, taking her place next to Aaron on his bed, stroking his hair affectionately. It was an odd request that she had never heard him utter before. "What kind of real story?"
Aaron took a moment before responding, giving his mother an almost apologetic look. "About Daddy."
The hand stroking Aaron's hair paused mid-action, the little boy's words making her whole body halt. It had been two years since she had been reunited with her son, and not once had he ever asked about his father. Her mother and Kate had warned her that he would eventually begin to ask questions, but it had still taken her off guard. Her hand that was not resting on Aaron's hand gripped his mattress tightly.
"Did something happen, Aaron? To make you ask that?"
Aaron looked down at his hands, almost guiltily. "Mrs. Anders asked us to make Father's Day cards. Mark and Anthony made fun of me when I told her that I didn't have one. They told me my Daddy must have left me."
Claire flinched protectively at the mention of the two boys whose bully-like behavior she had been informed of multiple times during the school year. Claire had been amazed that children began to develop hate and superiority at an age as tender as her son and his peers. Aaron was small for his age, which was always a disadvantage, as well as quiet. Claire had been mentally preparing herself for the life of a single parent, having experienced firsthand the cruelty one could face at the hands of their peers when they came from single-parent households. Father's Day had always been a sensitive issue in her life, and it seemed as if it would always be for her son as well. That holiday would always torment their family, along with the empty spot at the dinner table, the void of a male figure to teach her son how to ride his first bike, how to shave.
What troubled Claire the most were the somber and sympathetic looks that she would receive at every parents' event , caused both because of her young age and the fact that she would shake her head when asked if Aaron's father would be joining them. The worst of it was the assumptions that people made, deciding that she was either a widow or the victim of a runaway father.
But that's what happened, isn't it, Claire? Both happened. And no matter what you do, it's going to haunt both of you for the rest of your lives.
Claire sat cross-legged on her bed, her back rounded over in defeat as her fingers traced the soft bedspread. There was nothing that she wanted to do more than curl up beneath the covers and sleep, but she knew that that would be impossible for at least a couple of hours.
What she needed was someone to talk to. Ignoring her better judgment, Claire sighed as she picked up the phone, pressing the first number on her speed dial. It rang several times before she heard a raspy voice pick up on the other end. "Hello?"
"Did I wake you up?" Claire asked guiltily, noticing the time for the first time. It had been nearly three hours since she had put Aaron to bed. The time had flown by.
"No – no, I'm fine," lied the person on the other end. "Claire, is that you? Is anything wrong? Is Aaron okay?"
"He's fine, Kate. Aaron's fine. I just needed to talk to you."
Claire could hear the confusion on the other end as her friend continued to wake up. "Okay – what is it?"
"When I put Aaron to bed earlier, he started asking question about…his father."
There was a pause on the other end. "His father," she said slowly, almost like question.
Claire sighed. "Apparently they had to make Father's Day cards at school, and some boys made fun of him for not having one."
Kate sighed. "It's so easy to hate other people's kids sometimes."
Claire pursed her lips, not disagreeing with her friend's sentiments. "I don't know what to tell him, Kate. He asked me, and I just – I froze up. I told him that it was too late for story time and that Mommy needed to go do some really important work. The look on his face broke my heart, and I know he's going to ask me again. And I just don't know what to say to him."
"We knew this was going to happen one day, Claire. Kids know when something's missing."
"It's just…" her voice trailed off, not sure if she wanted to finish her sentence.
Kate picked up on her hesitation. "What is it?"
"As soon as Aaron said the word 'Daddy', I never even thought of Thomas. The whole time my brain was working all that I thought of was Charlie." Claire's voice wavered she said his name. As Aaron's request took her by surprise, Claire had imagined what she could say to him about the man who she had loved on the island. Overcome by emotion, images of their times together bombarded her – Charlie helping her feed him, Charlie taking them for walks on the beach, the smile on his face when he called Aaron "Turnip Head".
"What's wrong with that, Claire? Do you really think you owe Thomas anything after what he did to you? He left you when you were pregnant and scared, knowing that you had no father and that your mother was in a coma. Thomas might have been there for the easy part, but Charlie was Aaron's real father. I know that, you know that. Everyone who ever met the two of them on the island knew that." As she spoke, Claire could hear the anger in her voice; she sounded just as furious with Aaron's biological father at that very moment as she had when Claire had first told her about his abandonment years earlier.
"I miss him, Kate," Claire whispered suddenly, her voice barely audible. There was no need for her to specify who she was talking about. "I forgot how much I miss him."
"I know," Kate said slowly. "I miss him too." Neither of them said anything, both of them knowing full well that it wasn't Charlie Pace that Kate was thinking of, but the man she herself had left behind, the man who had sacrificed himself so that they could all survive. The man without whom Kate and Claire would be dead and Aaron left to be raised as an orphan. The man whom they never spoke of.
"I'm always going to miss him, aren't I?"
It wasn't a question, but Kate answered anyways. "We're always going to miss all of them, Claire. Charlie, Sun, Jin, Sayid, Boone, Jack." Her voice faltered slightly as she said the last name. "Do you want me to come over? To help you with this?"
"No," Claire answered, shaking her head even though she knew Kate couldn't see her. "No, I can handle this by myself. I"ll – I'll just have to figure out how to explain to him what happened without making it too hard on him. That's all. I'll find a way."
"Don't hesitate to call me. You know I'm always here for you both," Kate assured her, although there was no need. Claire already knew that she could count on Kate for anything, which had been the reason why she had called her before anyone else in the middle of the night, knowing that she would lend her ear and understanding for as long was needed.
Any of her animosity towards Kate had disintegrated when they had returned home two years earlier, an animosity which had mostly been instilled in her because of the negative energy that she had been surrounded by on the island. Having been reunited with Aaron and seeing how well Kate had raised him had helped them become friends. This friendliness between the two of them would have presented itself earlier had Aaron not still believe Kate to be his mother, a habit that had only recently been broken. Kate still responded at times when she heard Aaron call Claire Mommy, although she did her best to hide it, while Claire pretended not to have noticed.
Kate had proven to be a constant source of support, having even moved to Australia a year earlier to be closer to the two of them. Although Claire also believed her sudden move to be the result of a strained relationship between her and Sawyer, it was a taboo that was never discussed. Only six of them had escaped the island aboard the Ajira plane, leaving behind many people that they had known and loved, both alive and dead. Claire's thoughts returned to the witty rock star that she hadn't seen in nearly five years, although they had truly never left.
"I'll be fine, Kate," Claire told her friend, attempting to sound reassuring, both for herself and the woman over the phone.
"Okay," Kate said hesitantly. "Let me know if you need anything. And get some sleep, please." Kate's voice was followed by the dial tone. Claire sighed as she tossed the phone near the top of her bed, still nowhere near a state of mind that would allow her to follow Kate's orders. A good night's rest was beyond possible for the night.
Slowly, she made her way over to her already open bedroom closet, careful as she pushed past her hanging clothes to scavenge through the items that were piled on the floor, cursing herself for not having cleaned up recently. Luckily, she knew that what she was looking for was most likely pressed as far back in her closet as possible, having been untouched since the day she had moved in. Her heart began to beat slightly above normal as she reached out to lift it towards her with her trembling hands.
A small, negligible shoebox, void of any markings or labels that would identify it as an object of incredible sentimental value, more precious than anything else that took space in her closet.
For the most part, the small box was pathetically empty, its sole contents consisting of a meager two items. Claire stared at the two items for a long moment, her fingers still shaking as she reached out the grab what she had been looking for. Her movements were careful, her fingers tracing the wooden edges as she lifted the item towards her.
It had been five painfully years since she had seen him in person. Two since she had seen his face at all. It amazed her that every detail that she remembered rang true to the image that she saw in front of her, not blurred by time as she would have thought. She had long ago mesmerized the symmetry of his face, the color of his eyes and hair, as well as the way he held himself.
She had procured the photo only a few months after returning from the island. Knowing from conversation she had had with Charlie that his brother was living in Australia, Claire had finally gathered enough courage to seek him out and make her way to where he lived. It had taken her very little time to find his address on the internet and, despite her better judgment, she had shown up on his doorstep. His face showed nothing but confusion when he opened the door, and it took Claire several moments before she could speak.
I knew your brother, she had managed to choke out. I met him on the plane.
That had been all that she had needed to say before an understanding Liam stepped aside, welcoming her in. A young girl ran across the entrance into a room opposite from where she appeared, and Claire had wondered if she and Aaron would have been good friends had Charlie survived.
Claire had never mentioned the nature of relationship with Charlie, but the manner in which she spoke of him most likely was enough for Liam to understand. Several times she had stopped mid-sentence to maintain composure, several years' worth of grief and pain unraveling in those little moments.
It was when Liam excused himself to take a phone call from work that Claire took in her surroundings, her eyes roaming over the souvenirs and decorative pieces that filled the room. As her field of vision shifted towards a set of photos that hung on the wall, her breath caught in her throat as she recognized the face in the far left corner. One painful aspect of having left the island that the survivors realized was that they had no photos or mementos to remember those that they had left, their memories serving as their only souvenir.
And yet, here was a beautifully photographed picture of Charlie, a smile spread wide across his face as he stared at something off-camera. The worry free expression on his face made Claire think that his had been taken before his drug-using days, his eyes glinting in the sunlight as opposed to tainted with addiction, an aspect of him which she had always tried to ignore. This was her Charlie – smiling and carefree.
As Claire became mesmerized by the photo from her seat, Liam had returned, not failing to notice what had so avidly caught her attention. Taken right before our first concert, he had explained. The only time I'd ever seen him that happy is when we first heard one of our songs on the radio.
It's a beautiful picture, she had said, not being able to tear her eyes away from his smile. One that she had seen so many times, but at the same time not nearly enough.
Ignoring Claire's many protests, Liam had taken the photo out of the frame and handed it to her. I have hundreds of photos of him. You deserve at least one.
She hadn't spoken to him since that one visit, and the photo had taken its place on her bedside table. She had studied it every night before going to bed, tracing her fingers of the face that she knew so well. Her need to see his face had become so great that she had told herself that it was better for her sanity if she took some time away from it. It was then that she had placed it delicately into one of her shoeboxes, never again glancing inside, even when she had moved into her new apartment.
As her eyes scanned every inch of the picture carefully, she once again thought about how strikingly well she had remembered every detail of his face and the foreground. It was if no matter how long she went without seeing him, he would forever be etched into her brain. And yet, it seemed so strange to her that it appeared exactly as she remembered it, absolutely nothing altered. As if it should have aged over time as she and Aaron had.
That was when she spotted it, barely noticeable in the corner of the shoebox where her framed photo had rested moments before. A whole new flood of memories hit her as she reached out to pick it up with her free hand. She had completely forgotten that she even had this in her possession, something which she had been fortunate enough to stumble upon the beach while looking for food.
A ring. A man's ring, marked by a simple emblem made up of the letters D and S.
Although Aaron was in no way a difficult child, Claire had never before woken him while he was asleep. There was something about the very idea of waking a sleeping child, so overcome with innocence and bliss, which disturbed her. Tonight, however, was different. In so many different ways.
Her footsteps were light as she made her way into her son's bedroom, her right hand reaching out to touch his face gently. Motherly guilt swelled up inside her as she watched him squirm beneath her touch, but she knew that it was necessary. The risk of her not being able to gather up this courage for a second time had propelled her to come into his room, determined to go through with what she had started.
"Aaron," she whispered to her son as he slowly arose from his slumber. "Wake up, sweetheart. Come on."
The young boys opened slowly, taking in the figure of his mother crouched besides his bed. He yawned, only increasing Claire's guilty, his tiny eyes turning to face his window. "Is it time for school, Mommy?"
Claire shook her head. "No, honey – it's not time for school yet. I brought you something," She held the frame in her right hand, placing it in front of him so that he could get a good look.
Without saying a word, Aaron reached out to take the item from her, studying it curiously. Claire watched him for a moment before giving him an explanation. "That's your father," she told him, placing her hand on the top of the framed photo that he now held. "That's your Daddy. It's the only picture of him that I have, and I want it to stay with you, because that's what he would have wanted. Your father was an amazing person, and he loved you so very much, Aaron, but he can't be with us anyone. But he still loves you, Aaron, wherever he is right now."
Claire felt tears begin to form at the corner of her eyes, which went unnoticed by her highly perceptive five year-old, whose features had saddened at the sight of his disheartened mother. Silently, the young boy reached out to hug his mother, the photo still clutched in his hands. "It's okay, Mommy," he told her. "He loves you too."
Claire squeezed her son tightly, letting the hug linger for a long time before separating from him. She reached out to touch his face, tucking his hair behind his hair. "I'm sorry I woke you up, baby. I promise that I'll read you two stories tomorrow since I forgot to give you one today. Maybe we can even have Aunt Kate come over, so she could read you one too. Does that sound good?"
Aaron nodded sleepily, snuggling into his pillow as Claire pulled the covers back over him. She remained seated on the corner of the small bed, comforted by the sound of her son's steady breathing. When she was sure that Aaron had fallen back into a deep sleep, she reached out to take the photo that she realized he still held clutched in his hands, her movements careful so as not to wake him.
Her eyes scanned the familiar face for what felt like the twentieth time that night, a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips at the sheer happiness that Charlie was experiencing in the photograph. Claire was satisfied in knowing that the only photograph that her son would ever have of his father was one where he was at his happiest. Even though she knew there was only so much it could do, she hoped that being able to see his smiling face every night before he went to bed would somehow fill the void of the father figure that her son would always crave for. At least to a certain extent.
Taking in his features for the last time, Claire placed the photo delicately on her son's bedside table – its new and permanent home. It would never have to see the inside of her shoebox again.
As she began to make her way out the room, Claire hesitated at the doorway, her hand moving to rest of her right pocket, where Charlie's band ring rested. As much as she told herself that she had refrained from passing on the ring to her son at the moment because he would most likely lose it, she knew she also held on to it because it was much more sentimental to her than the photograph. It was something that he touched, that had witnessed the times that she had held his hand, the times that he had stroked her face or her hair. Except for her son, it was the only thing that she had left of those memories.
She would most likely pass it on to her son someday, but until then it would always remain on her, a symbol of what she had lost and what she had to look forward to.