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Roses In December

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God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.

-J.M. Barrie, 1922-

 

She had everything she needed but the time, and that was where her problems began.

It had been five years since she gave up field work. Five years since she said goodbye to her three hundred and sixty-five day a year sunburn- she was far too pale to just tan- and took a cushy curatorial position at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. And though she’d given up the ability to travel and explore the world, hunting for treasure on a whim, she hadn’t regretted the decision once.

Alright, she did once. But that was entirely the fault of the Miles Chang Dating Service, and after that incident, her best friend was damn lucky he still had his bollocks attached to his body.

Seven or eight years ago, Charlotte Lewis would have laughed if someone told her she’d be giving thematic tours to school kids and old ladies wearing purple and red hats. The fact of the matter was, though, after years of traveling, years of never really having a home, she loved and cherished this average, ordinary way of living. Nine to five shifts, air conditioned office, happy hour socializing, and most of all, not looking like a withered tomato- this was the life.

If there was one downside to living a normal life, however, it was losing the ability to make her own schedule. More specificially: Dr. Pierre Chang was a slave driver. And if he didn’t stop calling these bloody seven A.M., Monday morning staff meetings, Charlotte was going to take it out on his son the next time they met at happy hour (Secret weapon: Miles was a lightweight, and loose lips had most definitely sunk his ship with the ladies more times than she could count).

This particular Monday morning was even worse. Last night, the museum had pulled off its single most successful fundraiser to date, thanks in part to Charles Widmore’s generous patronage. Charlotte coordinated the musical portion of the evening, which had been no easy feat, considering that the bass guitar player from Driveshaft had disappeared before his encore performance. Talk about being let down by your childhood heroes (not that she’d ever admit that her official Driveshaft poster was still tucked away in her mom’s attic). And to top it all off, that sweet little boy David, the piano prodigy, had been left without a ride home, as both of his parents had been called into work during the performance and were unreachable by cell phone.  She’d given the kid a lift back to his house, dark and clearly still empty after midnight, waited until he made it inside, and headed back to her apartment. By the time she hit her bed, entirely exhausted, it was after one.

No wonder she was running late. The question was just how late.

Clambering down the busy morning sidewalks of LA, leather briefcase in one hand and mug of Earl Grey tea in the other, she made a mad dash for the swinging doors of the waiting bus.

And missed it.

Damnit!” she muttered, unsure of when the next bus was coming, or even what time it was. And that’s where the problem began- she’d forgotten her watch. Not a big deal, she had her phone. Shuffling around in her bag, she grasped blindly for the Blackberry amidst the clutter of receipts and loose change.

Dead. She must have forgotten to charge it after the reception last night.

Everything she needed but the damn time.

The streets were nearly deserted. Most of the office dregs who gathered on the corner had boarded the bus, and the humid LA morning challenged even the most dedicated runners to get in their early morning exercise. Glancing around her, ready to give up, she saw a figure hurrying down the street, back to her.

She jogged the few steps between them, cafeful not to catch her stilettos in the sidewalk cracks. “Excuse me, do you have the time?” she asked, placing a hand on his shoulder as she spoke, hoping not to startle him.

As he turned to face her, she nearly withdrew in shock. She knew this man . The face was distinct- silver rimmed glasses, bug eyes, hair gray and thinning, but not bald. Scholarly in his manner of dress and carrying a bag overflowing with textbooks and papers, she scolded herself for her naïve initial reaction. This many had probably been on one of several school tours she’d given over the past week.

“What was that, miss?” he asked, fiddling with the frames near his temple.

“The time, I think I’m running late.” Nervously she flipped her curly hair back over her shoulder.

He shook his head, motioning to his bare wrist. “Sorry dear, I’m afraid not. But it looks like that man is wearing one.” He pointed in the direction of the man in question, taking her hand briefly, the way her old granny had when she was about to give her a little tidbit of life advice (most of which had gone ignored).

“I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

She smiled her thanks. I hope I do too. Otherwise it’ll be my job…

 

OOO

 

Daniel Widmore wrote his masterpiece at age six, in his sleep.

Upon waking up the next morning, he promptly forgot all of it.

From that day forth, he kept a black and white marble composition notebook at his bedside, ready at any hour of the day to be filled. And fill it he did, drawing his own five bar staff, the lines jagged and meandering in his youthful exuberance to mark every andante and vivace, pianissimo and dulce. With age came a stack of notebooks, straighter lines, and complex rhythms- the brain child of a distant dreamland.

Then he saw her.

Overnight, the fortes became force, the marcatos became mass, and the lines of the staff became vectors on a theoretical plane, with an island trajectory.

Physics. His mother always had a strange interest in the subject, lord knows why. He’d barely passed the subject in high school. Didn’t understand a damned equation of it. Yet in his sleep, this apparently all made sense.

What he did understand, to some degree, was the catalyst for this change.

A red haired, steely nerved catalyst with a trail of third graders following her no-nonsense black high heels as they meandered between museum exhibits. She was beautiful, but not so extraordinary that she stood out from any other beautiful girl whose eyes he met once across the quad or in the concert hall. Beautiful, but ordinary enough for one lingering glance, and no second thought.

But for her, there was a second thought, and a third, and a fourth. In the week since he first saw her, the cliché electrical tingling hadn’t faded at the sight of her. And each time he went back to the museum (and he did go back, despite the fact that he felt like a stalker and a bit of a creep), the music in his dreams faded a little more, and the equations, once scattered randomly, began to take shape.

Like one long proof, worthy of a thesis project in theoretical physics, the numbers and jargon and notes became familiar to him. As if he had stolen some nerd’s diary and was reading it- except Daniel Widmore, classical pianist, was the science nerd. Jughead- a nuclear bomb. Detonated, or was he going to detonate it? He couldn’t tell from the scrawl, but a feeling surged through him as he looked over his night time ramblings the next morning: it was all so very real.

He was a physicist planning on blowing something- or someone- to hell.

It was disconcerting, to say the least, especially after his encounter with his father’s trusted assistant, Desmond. The man had gone absolutely bonkers, rambling on and on about his sister Penny, who Dan knew for certain that the Scotchman had never met. And sure as life, last night at the banquet, the two had shown up together, fawning over each other. It was inexplicable, completely unexpected, and yet Desmond appeared to have regained his sanity.

Perhaps the trick to regaining his sanity would be to ask the red haired woman- Charlotte, that was her name- on a date. Clearly it worked for Desmond. And Dan had contemplated it during their two point seven second introduction back stage. If only he hadn’t been called on to the stage to start the show.

All right, he chickened out. What else was new?

But really, the idea of waking up next to her was a hell of a lot more appealing than what he actually woke up to this morning. Two more pages of notes, this time about a rat named Eloise, and a woman named Theresa, and the words: “If anything happens to me, Desmond Hume will be my constant.”

It left him quaking, just barely functioning, and terrified to get out of bed. No lie he told himself could convince him that this was just a coincidence. Disturbed and distressed, he dressed quickly in slacks, a button down white shirt, and fedora, grabbed his music books, and headed for the studio, seeking a distraction.

Thirty seconds out the door, and the humidity left his shirt sticking to his chest, making him regret not rolling up his sleeves. Digging through his messenger bag he retrieved his cell phone, hitting Desmond's number in the speed dial.

"I'm sorry. The number you've reached is temporarily unavailable. Please hang up and try again later."

He turned off, waited ten seconds, and dialed again. The message repeated itself. Odd. A light bump pulled his eyes from the screen, and he realized he'd walked into an older man.

"Sorry," he mumbled, deciding to try Penny. She had been all over Desmond last night.

"No worries. You'll find what you're looking for eventually. Take care."

The words struck him as odd- but then again, since he first saw Charlotte, everything had taken a turn for the odd. Before he could even begin to comprehend what he'd said, much less form a response, the peculiar little man with the silver framed glasses hurried on his way, leaving him gaping.

"'Scuse me, sorry to bother you, but do you have the—oh! It's you!"

He would have recognized the lilting British accent anywhere- he'd been hearing it in his head for weeks now. And it had been worse since last night, when she said his name for the first time after their introductions. Daniel…

His look of surprise was not faked, though his struggle to remember her name was. "Oh… Charlotte, right?" God, he hoped he hadn't remembered her name too fast. The last thing he needed was the stalker stigma. "How are you? The show was really great last night. Thanks again for allowing me to play."

She smiled, rolling her eyes. "Couldn't really refuse, now, could I? Your dad's the one paying for the show- and my salary."

He laughed, knowing it was true, but he still did appreciate it. Breaking in the music business was hard, even with a billionaire father. "Well, thanks again."         "You're welcome. Listen, I hate to seem rude, but do you have the time? Pierre's holding a meeting, and I'm afraid I'm running late—"        

"Six fifteen. Next bus comes through that stop in about seven minutes."

She sighed in relief, pushing back her humidity-frizzed hair. The worry wrinkles on her forehead smoothed, and her shoulders lost some of their rigidity. "Thank God."

"No, thank Daniel," he said, grinning at his lame attempt at humor. She snorted, rolling her eyes again, and he was convinced he might love her a little more.

"And how would you suggest I do that?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

He hoped the reddish tinges he felt growing on his cheeks looked like sunburn. This was normally the part of the conversation where Daniel Widmore started stuttering out half formed thoughts and incoherent sentences.

"Dinner?"

Ah, so he didn't even need a full sentence. That was the trick.

Charlotte looked down at her briefcase, idly playing with her hair as she considered what he asked. "I think I'd like that, Daniel. Let me give you my number. My phone's dead, but I'll charge it at the office. Ring me this evening. We can figure something out."

By the time he entered her number into his phone, her bus had arrived.

"I'll be waiting for your call, Dan," she called over her shoulder, before stepping onto the bus.

She'd be waiting? How the hell was he supposed to function for the next eight hours?

OOO

It was a mom-and-pop kind of diner where Dan arranged for them to have dinner. Casual, relaxed, and completely the opposite of ever first date Charlotte had ever been on. And she loved it.

She wasn't dumb. She knew she was a good looking woman, and an experienced one at that. One didn't travel the world for years on end without gaining a bit of experience in all areas of life. But the minute she revealed her history to her dates, they felt the need to impress her, to one up every exotic local she'd visited, to prove they had more culture and context than the oldest civilization she studied.

Dan hadn't done that, and for that he scored major points in her book.

"I hope you don't think I'm being cheap," Dan mumbled shyly as he held open the chrome plated diner door for her. She could understand his fear- he probably had this problem all the time, being the son of Charles Widmore, wealthiest tycoon on the West Coast. Any gold digging bitch (and someone who used Daniel Widmore was an utter, unforgivable bitch in Charlotte's book) would have taken one glance, scoffed, and walked away. "But my nanny brought me and my sister Penny here as kids. Best food in all of LA, I swear."

"It's perfect Dan," she replied with a smile, entering. "It's nice not being wined and dined for once. And besides, I didn't agree to go out on this date with you because of your money. I'm interested in you, Dan."

And it was true.

In all honesty, for the first time in years, Charlotte Lewis's interested had been piqued in a man who hadn't been dead for millennia. There was no denying that Dan was attractive, albeit in a more unconventional way, with his brown shaggy hair and penchant for vests and fedoras. But it was more than that. Since they'd met a week ago at the concert, since their subsequent encounter waiting for the morning bus, since his phone call that afternoon to arrange the date, her memories had changed.

Well, not changed, per se. They… evolved. Diversified? There was really no term for it, not one that she could pinpoint. But instead of excavating civilizations, she was excavating polar bears. Instead of jumping from tour to tour in the museum, she was jumping from helicopters. Nose bleeds on top of headaches, cause unknown, instead of the migraines driven by the whines of children who didn't want to walk anymore.

And at the center of it was Daniel. Invading her thoughts, these vague glimpses and vestiges of a life she never lived. Daniel speaking of physics instead of music, being mocked and teased for his memory loss, trying to protect her. Her protecting him.

She was going bloody bonkers; there was no doubt of it. Or maybe it was her mind's subliminal way of telling her that Dan Widmore was the proverbial "one." She wasn't sure, but each new subconscious development pushed her closer to him, reaching out for an answer she was certain he could provide.

An answer the more realistic side of her brain was certain would involve him running away as fast as he could, and possibly phoning a mental institution to have her shipped away.

OOO

"I'm interested in you, Dan," he heard her say as he allowed the door to close behind them. He hoped she couldn't hear the sigh of relief that he let out. Too many times he'd been burned- it was almost the norm now, the price he paid for a famous father. Smiling, he took Charlotte gently by the arm, leading her up to the counter, where a curly haired woman leaned. Pen in hand, she squinted in thought, contemplating the crossword puzzle in the paper.

"It's Namaste," Dan said quietly, smiling broadly when the woman jumped up in shock.

"Daniel Widmore. When I get my hands on you…"

He laughed loudly and shrugged. "You were clearly lost on that one, Amy. 'A common greeting in India and Nepal, often accompanied by a bow,' seven letters. Definitely 'Namaste.' How are you and the family?"

She sighed, pushing herself off the counter. "Oh you know, when you're not giving me a heart attack, it's my husband. I think Horace is off chaining himself to a tree this weekend. Some industrial park they want to build in Arizona. But the baby's doing well. Ethan's starting to walk now!" Turning, Amy noticed Charlotte. "And who is this?"

"Oh, this is Charlotte Lewis. She's… uh… we're here… um…"

Words never failed to desert him in moments like this. And he hated himself for it.

"We're on a date," Charlotte interjected, rescuing him from a fate worse than the beat red blush that had already overtaken his face.

Amy's smile grew even wider. "Well look at you Dan! About damn time you found a nice girl. Frank's gonna love this. Grab a seat wherever you like. I've got a nosy cook that needs to be filled in on the gossip."

Amy fluttered back into the kitchen, leaving them along in the empty diner. "So where to?"

"The front, overlooking the street, if that's alright with you. It's where I normally sit. I like to people watch," Dan explains.

"Then that's where we'll sit." Charlotte paused. "This is a date, right? I assumed…"

"No. No, this is definitely a date," Dan quickly reassured her. "I'm sorry, I'm not always the best with words. Not as bad as when I was a kid, but they tend to escape me sometimes. This is a date."

"Good," Charlotte replied, taking his hand.

Grabbing two menus from where Amy keeps them, although he already knew what he wanted, they walked to their seats. Charlotte casually flipped through the laminated pages, going back and forth between two until she looked up and announced, "Ready."

"Great, I'm starving. You know, I didn't realize til I actually visited Philadelphia that the best Philly cheese steaks are here in LA. What are you getting?"

Her smile disappeared suddenly. "You're going to laugh," Charlotte said seriously, biting her lip.

"No I'm not, why would I do that?"

"Because it's just so… so… cliché." She was smirking now.

Dan grinned. "Oh really?"

"Really."

"Do you plan on telling me?" he prodded.

"Not if you're going to be annoying," Charlotte shot back, now grinning all out.

"I swear, I won't laugh!"

"God, do I need to build a wall around you two? You lovebirds are making this bitter old man want to heave." Frank towered over them, carrying Amy's order pad. Dan felt his cheeks burning again, but felt slightly better when he saw Charlotte's were bright red as well. "Amy has to go to Tempe to bail her husband's sorry ass out of jail again. Damn hippie. Now what can I get you two?"

Dan watched as Charlotte turned to Frank. "I'd like the fish and chips please."

And lord help him, Dan couldn't help but laugh. Try as he might, he couldn't hold it in, and for a moment he feared he'd absolutely blown his chances again.

Until he saw that Charlotte was laughing too.

Neither noticed when Frank flipped the notepad closed, muttering, "For Chrissakes. Lovebirds."

OOO

"Two dates, eh?" Miles said, handing her the Bloody Mary that had just been prepared. He gulped at his own beer, not even pausing to taste the liquid.

"Three, actually. And I haven't been kicked out of the bedroom yet, unlike with some people…" she added snarkily, trying to rile her best friend up.

"Hey… don't talk about Jim like that. I know he was a douche, but he's my best friend, besides you. And I still haven't been able to get in contact with him since he left."

Charlotte blushed, embarrassed. She'd all but forgotten that Jim Ford had resigned from his position in the LAPD the morning after the benefit concert. No explanations, no warning, just a short note left on Miles's desk that he was alive, well, and in love, and that someday they'd all meet up again. He'd written that Miles would understand eventually, and that he should keep an eye on "the ginger and the geek." She could only assume that the former was referring to her, which had mildly irritated her, but she'd refrained from commenting when she saw how torn up Miles was.

"I'm sorry; I shouldn't have brought it up."

Miles shook his head, squaring his jaw in an effort to look tough. "Nah… can't be sensitive about it forever. As long as he's happy… You know, he's tormented himself about his parents for years. If he's at peace now, then I guess it's all ok." Miles said seriously, just before he smirked. "Besides, as it is I know Dan. He's a slow mover. You haven't even made it to the bedroom, much less had an opportunity to be kicked out."

"You're really crass, you know that," she shot back, trying to look repulsed at his words despite their truth. She had no desire to rush things. The time she'd spent with Daniel had been absolutely wonderful, more fun than she'd had with a man in years. There was nothing Charlotte wanted more than for things with Dan to work. "And what do you mean, you know Dan."

"Really, that brilliant mind of yours hasn't connected the dots yet, Char? Christ, Dan's really got your head in the clouds, doesn't he?" He grinned cockily, leaning back on the stool as he pretended to decide whether to explain. He tottered back and forth a moment, starting to slip backwards before slamming a hand on the bar to regain his balance, knocking over his drink. "My dad? The museum? Funded by Widmore? Any of that ring a bell, Ginger-snap?"

He was lucky he didn't get a punch for the nickname, but Charlotte figured nearly falling off a bar stool was enough of a punishment. Especially considering the pretty brunette college girl that had been checking Miles out moments before had now moved on to the metrosexual seated on the other side of the room. Not that Miles had noticed. Little victories, right?

"Bloody hell, of course. You've met before?"

"Practically grew up together. Eloise Widmore always invited my mom and me over for tea. Made all the kids play together. Dan was a wimp, but his older sister- I always had a crush on Penny. And she grew up to be hot too. Shame she up and ran off with that Desmond guy."

"Would you stop thinking with your bollocks and get to the point?" Charlotte interrupted, before she had to hear a retelling of Miles's latest failed escapades with the opposite sex.

"Dan and I became pretty good friends. Last few years we haven't seen each other as much, but he can't have changed that much. Terrible wing man, but all around a solid guy. You picked a good one, Char. You really did."

"I hope so," she said, sipping her drink.

The words escaped without thinking, an offhand remark she hoped Miles wouldn't take seriously. She had the utmost faith in her burgeoning relationship with Dan. But these memories, these strange, random memories kept returning to her. And sitting here now with Miles, she could swear her best friend was involved too. A grenade, barracks in the middle of the jungle, a bulletproof vest.

Miles eyed her suspiciously. "And if he screws it up, I'll kick his ass for you."

Charlotte squeezed his hand, secretly grateful that Miles had her back. "Thanks, but maybe wait until there's actually a reason for that. Now if you don't mind, I have to go get packed."

"Packed?"

"We're going to the beach tomorrow. I have to get my things together." She tossed a twenty on the bar, enough for her drinks and tip. "We'll meet up again next week, right? Cheers!" she called over her shoulder.

Staring at her retreating back, Miles shouted, "You do realize it's supposed to rain, right?"

She never heard him.

OOO

"So much for swimming. Sorry about this Charlotte, I really am," Dan apologized, turning the brass key in the rusted knob.

Charlotte hit the lock button on her car keys, before joining Dan at the door of the room they'd just rented to wait out the storm. Sure they could have just turned around and driven the twenty minutes back to LA, but the radio weatherman had said the storm would pass within a few hours, and their stubbornness had won out. The motel, just a mile or two off the Santa Monica pier, was weather beaten and verging on a bit sketchy, but the woman at the front desk seemed sweet enough and was happy to lease them the room overnight.

"Hush, you don't control the weather, Dan. You don't have to apologize for things you can't control. Besides, we've got somewhere warm and dry to wait out the rain, even if it does look like it may fall apart at any second," she replied, kissing his cheek softly as she walked through the door he held open. "Besides, I'm sure we'll find something to do here."

Stepping into the room, she flicked on the light, breathing in the musty scent of decades old, ambiguously colored carpet. She heard the door close behind her and felt Dan's arms wrap around her waist. "You're amazing, you know that Charlotte?"

"I'm just not a money hungry bitch like the rest of the women you've dated," she replied, turning to face him. He leaned in to kiss her, stubble grazing her cheek.

Hands tied, a blonde haired girl with French braids, a tent. A hydrogen bomb. He loved her. She took a step back. This had never happened while she was awake. These memories, they'd only ever emerged when she woke in the morning. Like a dream, only real. This… this was almost frightening.

"Charlotte?"

"I'm… I'm fine. Just got a bit dizzy for a second. Why don't we order in lunch and I'll look around for something to do."

OOO

As Charlotte, lying on her stomach on the bed, flipped through television stations, Dan opened the top drawer of the unsteady nightstand to grab the phone book. Pulling out the thin, abridged Yellow Pages, he smiled with delight.

"Found something to do!" he announced.

"Thanks God, otherwise we'd be watching Castaway, and I bloody hate that movie," she said, turning the TV off and tossing the remote onto the floor. "What did you find?"

"Do you play cards?" he asked. "Looks like someone left these here."

"My sisters and I played cards all the time as children. It'll be brilliant!" Charlotte replied cheerfully. Internally, he felt relieved. When she pulled away earlier, Dan had honestly been worried he'd done something wrong. Their first trip together had already gone horribly awry with this rain, and to think he'd screwed things up with her…

He really had to work on this whole self-confidence thing.

"You set up, I'll order us some Chinese?"

"Or pizza. Something good and unhealthy." She took the deck of cards, and moved to a corner of the bed where she started shuffling them.

The order placed with a promise of delivery in under an hour, he took a seat on the bed. Charlotte had placed the cards on the bed, face down, spread out in rows of six. "Is this how you play blackjack in England?"

"It's Concentration, silly," she said. "It's a memory game, matching the numbers and the colors. Like king of spades and king of clubs. How have you never played this?"

Dan shrugged. "I've played it. It's just been a few years."

"Good, that means your rusty. Better hand me the victory right now," Charlotte said, flipping two cards over. Ace of hearts, queen of spades. She flipped them back over.

"Right. If that's how you play, I think the victory will be mine." He flipped over two. Two of clubs, three of diamonds.

She looked at him, eyebrow quirked, clearly in challenge. It was on. Her turn- five of diamonds, queen of clubs. "Damn," she muttered, flipping them back over. "Well go on. Match them."

Eagerly, Dan reached down, flipping the queen of clubs back over. All that was left to do was pick the queen of spades again. Reaching down to where he thought it was, he hesitated. Was that the spot?

They were sitting on the beach, fire crackling behind her. She flipped the cards over. "It's two out of three. That's not bad. It's progress."

The memory sent him reeling, feeling closer, more realistic, than any of the previous memories had. They'd never been that clear. Before it was fragments, brief, quick moments. This was a clear event. An entire scene. He sat frozen on the bed, staring at Charlotte, hand unmoving from the card he'd chosen.

What was going on? What was this?

OOO

"Would you stop mocking me?" Charlotte joked, as Dan sat with his hand on the queen of spades. Waiting, taunting her that he would get the first match. He just had to rub it in. "Dan? Earth to Dan!"

She gave him another second. "You're such a bloody tease, Daniel Widmore," she muttered, grabbing his hand to turn the card over.

"Three cards Charlotte. Is that progress?" His hand grabbed hers as she set down three more cards for him to look at. She looked up to reassure him, but the doctor was approaching with the blonde woman, looking annoyed.

"Charlotte?"

"Daniel, what's going on?" She hated the crack in her voice, the tremble that took over her hand. He released the card and turned his palm over to take her hand and squeeze it.

Back in the tent, Miles was there too. He looked disheveled, she can feel the dried blood under her nose. The blonde girl was there again, looking peeved, and a dark haired man demanded answers about the bomb they apparently left behind. And Dan's offered to fix it. They didn't trust him. How can we trust you? How can we trust you not to kill us all?

She doesn't care, she just wants to go home. She regrets ever searching for the island, regrets her determination to prove that this island was real. And then Dan spoke with more confidence than she's ever heard him speak before.

"Because... I'm in love with the woman sitting next to me. And I would never... I would never do anything to hurt her."

"You said you loved me," Charlotte whispered across the rows of cards.

"I meant it."

The headache. So painful. Her brain was going to explode, she was certain of it, and this wasn't the way she wanted to die, half-lucid in the jungle. But Dan had stayed. He'd stayed, he hadn't left. She wanted to tell him that she loved him. She never spoke the words, even though he had.

She opens her mouth. "I'm not allowed to have chocolate before dinner."

He's the last thing she sees before the bright lights take over. A flash, and then darkness.

OOO

There's grief, grief, and only grief. Months in Ann Arbor, away from the island, buried in research, and there's finally some promise .A way to start it all over. To fix their mistakes. His mistakes. Jack and Kate have agreed to help him, and thank God, he's found a way to save her. A way to find her again.

But what if the plan fails? What if he fails her again? He can't let her die. And if "whatever happened, happened" really isn't true, his warning could save her this time.

She's on the swing at the playground. He kneels before her offering her a chocolate bar. "Mummy says I'm not allowed to have chocolate before dinner…"

The words strike him hard, and he has to convince himself to deliver the warning. He wouldn't let her die again.

Dan didn't know what's going on. One moment they were playing a game, passing the time until the rain cleared and they could go to the beach. The next, all the flashes, the notes in his music book, the glimpses of a mystery life had turned into a full story of a life once lived. A life that was over.

"Charlotte?" It came out more a question than anything else. As if he realized, for the first time, who she was.

And then she was on top of him, the bounce of the bed sending the cards fluttering to the ground. Her body shook with tears, something Dan never expected to see from the woman who was as tough as nails on the island, and the tight grip of her arms squeezed the life out of him.

Except he didn't have to worry about that anymore, because they were dead, and there was no life to squeeze out anymore.

"I never told you," he heard her say between sobs. "You bloody fool, went off all half assed, got yourself killed trying to fix things and bring me back to life. You stupid, stupid man. If you weren't already dead…" The words had barely left her mouth, before the realization of their meaning made her cry even harder.

"Charlotte," he tried to break in, holding her tighter, kissing whatever part of her face he could reach in her death grip. He wanted to give her reassurance, that they were together, that this time, they wouldn't be torn apart again. "It's alright. We're here, we're together, it's alright."

"I love you, Dan. I wanted to tell you on the island. Believe me. But I never got the chance. I was too damned proud. And then… and then everything with the flashes… oh my God, we're dead. Miles is dead. Does he know? And his dad, and everyone here. We're all dead." She rolled off him, lying at his side, still clutching his hand, taking deep breathes. For several minutes they laid there as Charlotte collected herself. The right words escaped him, so he offered silent comfort, free arm wrapping around her protectively.

And when she finally pulled herself together, she asked, "What happens now?"

"We move on I suppose. Like my sister Penny and Des."

A look of realization passed over her face. "And Jim LaFleur."

They laid in the silence, hands still joined. Outside, he could hear the rain on the metal roof. Strange how things in this purgatory so resembled real life.

"I love you too, Charlotte," Dan said quietly.

"I know you do, Dan." She rolled onto her side to face him, curling into his side. Her head tucked against his shoulder as her lips grazed over his cheek. She sighed, her breathe dancing over his skin. "How much longer do we have? Before we move on?"

He smiled, turning his head so he could kiss her full and deeply. "Does it matter? We're together here, and we'll be together there. We have all the time in the world."