Charlotte’s eyes are blank, empty, and he bends over her as the pain washes over him, constricting his throat as he sobs silently, clutching her limp hand to his chest.
When the next flash comes in blinding, dizzying light, she disappears.
He crouches on the jungle floor alone and as he spots his journal a few feet ahead of him he’s overwhelmed with a mad desire to rip it apart, to tear it to pieces to match the state of his aching, bleeding heart, because he thought he knew what to do, he thought everything in it would save them, he thought it would save her.
He forces himself to look away, recalling Charlotte’s shocking declaration.
He won’t tell her, he can’t, it won’t change anything even if he did.
He murmurs this defiantly, over and over and over, and the minutes pass by all the while.
He doesn’t notice.
His eyes rest on Charlotte, who runs gleefully ahead of him in the darkness, her red dress billowing around her.
He doesn’t sleep that entire night.
The days pass by, always too short for his liking.
The nights are longer.
His dreams are filled with her; she haunts him relentlessly.
“Dan,” She says, her lips curled in a small smile, and the sound of her voice makes him physically ache.
“Charlotte,” He returns, always, reaching out his hand tentatively, hopefully, to touch her, and she lets him, his fingers sliding gently down the side of her face, her red waves of hair slipping like silk through them.
She still feels warm.
But her crystalline eyes shine, cold.
“I know you’re thinking of telling me,” She nods towards the window, outside, and he swallows thickly, knowing exactly what she means and wondering how she does.
The thoughts, the possibilities, they just won’t leave him alone, and he wonders, sometimes, that maybe it can work, maybe…
“Don’t, Dan,” She says, as if reading his mind, and her tone is so harsh that he nearly gasps. “It won’t work. You know it won’t. You’ll just fail again.”
Blood trickles out the side of her mouth and he stares, transfixed and horrified.
“It’s too late. You let me die.”
Her eyes bore into his, darkened by anger and accusation.
The tears slip down his face; he tastes the saltiness of them on his lips. “Oh, Charlotte, I’m so sorry, I tried, I really did--”
He never finishes his plea for forgiveness.
She fades away and he wakes, thrashing in the bed, his hands trembling as he holds them to his face.
He doesn’t remove them. He just lies there, shielding his eyes, because if he looks, if he opens his eyes, he knows he’ll see her.
He can feel her presence in the room.
And he can’t stand the way she looks at him now.
They had nearly kissed once.
It had been after a few nights of being at the plane crash survivors’ camp. They had been left alone for a while because no one really trusted them, and Charlotte had been trying to help him, once again, with memorizing the cards.
After fifteen minutes or so he had finally gotten two right, instead of just one, and she had grinned at him from where she sat next to him and he had looked over at the cards she revealed in her hands, confirming it for himself.
He had felt a surge of relief as his own grin formed on his face because he truly had been making progress, then, after all that time of practice and disappointment, and he had looked up at her, realizing only then how close in proximity they were.
Time had almost seemed to stand still as they merely looked at each other, their smiles faltering as they had gotten caught up in the moment, and he thinks he remembers leaning in, and her just sitting there, looking as if she had wanted it, and was willing, but it doesn’t matter now, because he had turned away at the last second.
He remembers her sheepish smile as she had tried to play it off as well and how the heat had rushed to his face, how she had put the cards down and patted him lightly on the shoulder and said, “You did it, Dan, that’s great.”
He wishes now that he had been brave enough to just do it, to just kiss her, to feel her lips on his.
At least he would have something more to hold on to.
He knows everyone else is concerned about him.
Juliet’s eyes rest on him more often than ever, soft and worried, and when she and Sawyer talk to each other in hushed voices at the other side of the room then glance over at him, he carefully pretends not to take notice.
Miles even attempts to get through to him.
“Hey, Dan,” Miles says awkwardly, fidgeting a little where he stands. “I’m sorry. I know how much she meant to you.”
He looks up into Miles’s face, his own betraying no emotion.
He makes sure it doesn’t.
Miles’s eyes sweep nervously across the ground then back up at him. “What I’m trying to say is that if you need someone to talk to, I’m… you know, here.”
He thinks about all the things that he can possibly say, to confide in him, to just blurt out Charlotte’s dead and it’s all my fault and I dream of her all the time and she never leaves me alone and she blames me and she has every right to because it is my fault every bit of it is my fault because I should have saved her but I didn’t and I loved her but she’s gone and sometimes it hurts so much that I wish I could just sleep and never wake up because she’s never coming back, never.
He looks back down at his journal splayed open on his lap as the tears prick his eyes and he tries to stop his hands from shaking as he mutters absently, “Thanks, Miles.”
Miles nods and walks away and later, when he meets Jin’s eyes, the Korean man smiles slightly at him, understanding, and he thinks he knows why. Because they both have lost the women they love.
He holds back the bile rising up in his throat.
The next day, he boards the submarine to Ann Arbor.
He returns to the island years later with a purpose and he thinks, this time, he knows exactly how to make things right.
She’s aged a little now as he kneels before her, telling her what he had once promised to himself that he never would, and when she cries, startled, his hand twitches, wanting nothing more than to cup her young, innocent face and comfort her.
But he doesn’t.
What he’s trying to achieve, for her, it requires bluntness, even if it frightens her.
Anything to get the message across.
“You have to tell your mommy this,” He proclaims, at the end, and she jumps off the swing and runs from him, wiping at her face.
He watches her go.
I’m going to save you this time, Charlotte.
The gunshot rings out and for one wild moment he thinks he actually did it, that his fingers had really slipped on the trigger.
But the man he’s aiming at, Richard, doesn’t fall, just stares back at him with wide eyes.
Then he feels the pain.
He looks down, the shock overtaking him, and sees the blood rapidly blossoming on his chest, staining his dark jumpsuit.
He can’t move, he just lies on the ground, his limbs becoming heavier with each passing second, his own blood becoming sticky, seeping into his clothes and onto his skin.
His mother, younger than he’s seen her in so many years, stares down at him warily, the gun still held tightly in her hands.
He fumbles for the words as he comprehends with startling clarity what has happened and suddenly he remembers a time where his mother had urged him to go to the island, when he had only agreed because she had said it would make her proud of him.
The realization hits him hard.
She had known this entire time.
She had sent him here to die.
He tells her this, the words coming out feeble and low, and he watches as her eyes grow big with astonishment and incredulity.
All of this knowledge, it hurts, it hurts so much more than the bullet in his chest and as his eyes travel past his mother’s face, gazing somewhere behind her, he thinks he glimpses red hair, bright blue eyes, and he thinks oh, Charlotte--
He takes one last deep breath and he feels so tired and it wasn’t supposed to be this way, I was supposed to save her, I was supposed---