Jamie has begun to sit with Claire. Charlie was surprised by this until he saw Jamie's hands hovering near the rounded stomach of her pregnancy. Never touching. Not even looking. Just hovering. He felt an even more surprising stab in his guts at the sight, sandy-brown head close to blond, but not touching, never touching. At least Jamie would touch him, Charlie remembered, the warmth of the memory sliding like oil along his ribs, and Charlie had seen him with enough people now to know how rare was that privilege.
Privilege. He must remember it was a privilege, to be with Jamie. To listen for his softly stuttered phrases. To feel the gentle stop-start of his fingers as they explored the calluses left by guitar-strings on Charlie's skin. To catch his breath if he's allowed to catch and hold a glimpse of green, green eyes. Jamie made him shiver. Jamie made him want. Jamie held Charlie together, in this god-forsaken wilderness.
So he's not bothered by the sight of Jamie sat near Claire. He doesn't care that Jamie's hands are so very still, held near her baby. He refuses to notice that Jamie looks almost worshipful. It doesn't matter. Right?
2. Green-eyed Monster
It's not that Charlie dislikes Claire. When everyone was trying to persuade her to move to the caves, he put in his own plea for her only sane choice. Well, joked really. And her little pixie-face had creased into brightness with her laugh, and Charlie had felt good about that, happy that someone had listened to him, if only for a few seconds. It's only since she moved here, with her diary, and her stupid astrology, and her baby, that things have changed. He heard her try to guess everyone's star sign, everyone's except for him. He wondered why he wasn't good enough to ask.
She reminds him of his long gone groupies. Not on their knees in the dressing room, working on his cock, lights dazzling, bouncing reflections back into his eyes, but earlier, or later. His groupies as they must have been at home, someone's girlfriend, someone's daughter. He looks at her belly for a lingering second. Someone's mother. He wishes that he could see Claire as something else, something he could like, but all that Charlie can see is Jamie. On his knees in front of her. Like the groupies. Worshiping.
And it makes him feel sick.
3. Losing it
She's making another fuss. Not content with waking them all up in the middle of the fucking night, now she's having a shouting match with Jack. That's right, girlie, piss off your only medical help between here and the deep blue sea. Very clever.
She's being offered tranquilisers. Charlie can hear Jack's voice trying to be soothing, but it doesn't work. Of course. Charlie tries not to think about them too hard. He wasn't offered any drugs when he was desperate.
He looks up from his guitar and stops playing before his hands tremble. He knows it's not the same. Jamie is standing nearby, looking distressed, looking terrified, but not leaving either. Not trying to find Rose, or Hurley, or any one of the few people he can bear to comfort him. Charlie sits looking at Jamie as Claire storms off, watches his fingers twitch and pluck at his buttons, watches his eyes shift nervously.
He can't bear it any longer. He walks over and stands by him, trying to remember what gave them their connection. Trying to not feel utterly lost when Jamie turns away. Trying to understand when it had become all about Claire and her bloody baby.
"Jamie? You all right?"
There's a silence, that's not quite silence. Charlie notices that Jamie's hair is getting too long, it curls over his ears. His hands are plucking at his shirt-collar, and Charlie knows that means high-level distress. He wants to soothe him, wants to run his fingers down Jamie's back like he's stroking a skittish puppy, but he doesn't, because he's not sure what Jamie will do.
"What's got you so bothered? Claire's only had a nightmare. She'll be fine."
Charlie feels the false cheer lying heavy in his mouth, like congealed toffee, like that fried Mars bar he had once, too sweet, too sticky.
"She'll be fine…" Jamie murmurs, repeating his words.
Charlie doesn't take that as reassurance. Jamie has his own ways to evade the point.
"You don't really think someone is trying to hurt her baby, do you? 'Cos that's mad."
The syllables fall flat in the humid air, and Charlie could cut out his own tongue. Jamie nearly looks at him then – flash of green, flash of electricity – but he doesn't. And Charlie closes his eyes, throat aching, mind stupid and numb. He knows Jamie is walking away. But he doesn't have to watch.
"Has anyone seen Claire?"
Jack's voice is concerned, but Charlie doesn't look up from his guitar. Jack always sounds concerned.
"Dude!" Hurley is running, and that does make Charlie look up. "We got a problem. The manifest. Jack, the census, the names of everyone who survived, all forty-six of us. I interviewed everyone here, at the beach, got their names. One of them. One of them isn't in the manifest. He wasn't on the plane!"
And there's something cold breathing on the back of Charlie's neck. He keeps fingering the chords, like his mind's on autopilot, as he listens to Jack's shock and the others' panic. It's all too much. What does it mean? He feels like he's trying to see through a fog, like he's hearing his own music from the bottom of a well.
"Claire headed for the beach. She was angry. She took her bags." Locke is calm. He sounds like the voice of reason, cool water flowing onto a hot and arid land.
"Did she go alone?" asks Jack, but Locke doesn't look at Jack, he looks across at Charlie.
"Jamie went after her."
Pain lances into Charlie's thumb, hot and biting.
His string has snapped.
Breath is coming harsher now, the burn in his chest painful, but deserved, as Charlie forces himself to keep up with Jack and Locke as they run through the jungle. There's a razor slicing at his lungs, and spots in his vision. But he tries not to think about that. He tries not to think about a lot of things as he runs.
The jungle is green. Too green. It always seems to be too rich and lush, like an overripe call-girl, it wastes itself in extravagance, that somehow offends his grey, narrow Mancunian roots. He tries to list in his head all the things that he hates about the jungle.
Like the way he'd let Jamie turn away. Like the way he hadn't noticed that he'd gone. Like the way he'd let his bloody stupid jealousy get in the way. Somehow.
Don't think about that.
Locke stops abruptly, and motions for silence. Jack is looking wild, and pissed off, and he ignores Locke. Of course.
"What is it?"
"Footprints." Locke's gaze is opaque, intent. "At least three distinct sets. It looks like there might have been a struggle."
Then he points to a glimpse of blue.
Claire's bag. Abandoned.
"So who the fuck is this Ethan anyway?"
Charlie wants to talk, wants to do anything to distract his mind, crowded as it is with images that bleed, that make him want to flinch. Jamie fighting with a crazy assailent, Jamie being beaten, Jamie who can't even have Charlie touch him without warning, being forced to the ground, crying out in pain…
"And what the hell does he want with Claire and Jamie?"
"I don't know, Charlie." Jack is patient with him, always has been, but there's an edge of sharpness now. Charlie knows he should leave it. Jack is feeling guilty too. But he can't just let it go, he has to pick at it like an itchy scab. Anything to stop the flash – jagged like lightening – of green eyes turning away, over and over again...
He hopes Jack knows where he's going. Locke said it would be better to get a search party together back at the caves, but Jack wouldn't wait. Charlie's glad about that. He didn't want to wait either. But, as he jumps at a creaking branch overhead, groaning like a damned soul in the wind, he knows he's even more glad he's not alone.
Ok, so we were walking in a circle. Ok, so me and Jack can't follow a trail to save our bloody lives. It made it easy for Locke and Kate to find us, didn't it? Didn't it? Wankers.
Now Locke is sniffing the ground like he's some kind of dog. Maybe that's an idea. Get Vincent to sniff out the bad guys. Or the good. Give him a piece of clothing, and let him find Jamie. …Oh please, let us find Jamie.
No, that's no bloody good, Vincent's a lab, isn't he? Do we want the Bad Guy to be licked to death? Yeah, well-known psycho-stalker nut in exuberant puppy accident. Likely, highly likely. Fuck. Locke's lost the trail, hasn't he? …Oh please, let Locke pick it up again.
What does he mean, there's two trails? There were only three of them, so only one Bad Guy, towing two of us – there can't be two trails. Wait… Has Locke found a sign? Oh god. That's Jamie's drawing. A bit of it anyway. The torn corner of a pirate flag. I remember him showing it to me – such a precious link to home, to stability. To everything that matters.
Charlie's restless, they need to be moving on, and his nerves feel like they're on fire. Worse than withdrawal. He knows there's no time for this shit, but they're just not listening. He doesn't know what to do. No-one ever listens to him.
"That wasn't Jamie."
"But it is his picture. Maybe he left it as a clue for us. He must have known we'd follow." Locke is being reasonable and earnest, and Charlie wants to hit him.
"Jamie wouldn't do that!"
"Why not, Charlie?"
"It's just not the way he thinks, alright? That drawing… It's…" He throws up his hands, unable to articulate why Jamie wouldn't think to destroy his treasured picture for the sake of a clue on the trail. "He just wouldn't do it."
"There are still two paths to follow…" Locke is looking thoughtful, but Jack is no more willing to wait than Charlie is, and pushs forward. Charlie finds shards of bitter envy prick at him for the easy assumption of that power.
"Then we must split up. I'll go with Locke, and you go with Kate, Charlie."
Charlie looks at Kate, who seems as unhappy about this as he is.
Jack doesn't believe him.
Does Kate know how to track? Who knows? Charlie doesn't. She points out bent twigs, bruised leaves. That's good enough for him. He finds he's going faster and faster, watching Kate impatiently, pushing past her on the trail when he spots a sign of his own. His skin prickles with the awful feeling of deadlines rushing past, of appointments missed. Kate keeps asking him to slow down, but Charlie can't. He's already too late. He knows it. But he keeps running, towards inevitability.
There's a sound, animal-like, a high-pitched scream.
"Jamie!" Charlie gasps, but Kate doesn't hear it.
He leaves her impatiently, scrambles up a bank, the vines slippery in his hands. Rain is falling, turning everything translucent, like a dream. The jungle is grey and misty, so the man who drives out of the bushes and into Charlie seems to come from nowhere. Pain explodes behind his eyes, even as he tries to fight back. The man seems unmovable, Charlie's fists find contact in solid flesh, but Ethan barely flinches. Then Charlie is falling, into mud, into failure, and Ethan looms above him.
"If you do not stop following me, I will kill one of them. Do you understand?"
Charlie understands. He does. It's Kate that doesn't understand. She wants to find the others. She wants back-up. Charlie knows it's a good idea but there's a thudding behind his eyes now, to match the throbbing in his flesh. There's no time. He knows there's just no time.
He wipes blood from his lips, the flavour metallic, tasting of despair. He drags his sleeve from her hand, slippery with mud, and then he's running again. Running.
He won't let this happen, he can't. Jamie. His mind whispers the name, sounding like a requiem already. He promised to look after him, he can't let that go. He's let so much of what he's promised to do in his life turn to shit. Jamie is a miracle. A bloody miracle. And he's not going to let that go again.
The rain stops but his face is still wet. Salt and blood mingling. He licks his stinging lips. Vines and leaves are heavy, sodden, as he pushes through them. A branch snaps back, catching him a stinging blow, and his eyes water.
He can't even breathe through the pain, or cry out. He's too late. Too late.
Jamie is hanging from a tree.
The world doesn't end, though it should do. Time does not stop, although it feels like it has.
I'm climbing now, climbing the sodding tree, but all the while my mind keens – Jamie, Jamie. I don't look at the ground, I don't look at the… My thoughts snap back from using the word body.
Knife. Stupid sodding knife. It's not cutting the vine fast enough, it's not… Kate catches him. He looks so small in her arms, so slight. She checks his breathing but he's not responding… Oh god.
Please, Lord, let him live… Do I have to pray harder, do I have to promise more? I will, Lord. I promise. I'll promise anything you want…
Jack? Where the fuck have you sprung from? But thank you. In case I forget to say it later. Thank you. That's right. Pound on Jamie's chest, and breathe into his lungs, don't let him go… Don't let him leave me…
I watch Jack work, holding Jamie's hand, and I can't breathe either. Come on, Jamie, come back to me, please…
And then he gasps, and chokes, and it's fucking beautiful. The most beautiful noise in the entire world.
The sound of a miracle.