Characters: Charlie, Desmond
Spoilers: Set during Live Together, Die Alone
Disclaimer: Lost isn’t mine. This is what it would look like if it were.
Summary: Since everyone else is preoccupied, Charlie takes it upon himself to interrogate the camp’s latest arrival.
A/N: This is a humble offering to falafel_musing in honour of her retirement. Thank you for all your wonderful stories. Nominated for the 2007 "Fic that should have been canon" at lost_fic_awards.
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Charlie was never good at figuring out if someone was lying. Maybe this was because every time he even so much as twisted the truth he was sure it manifested in some obvious twitch. He was always shocked when people didn’t see through him right away and the longer his deception lasted, the more paranoid he became. So often his lies were followed by awkward admissions of the truth. Most of the time he wasn’t even looking for absolution. He just he hated scrutiny, real or imaginary, so he acknowledged his weaknesses before anyone else got the chance.
That strategy worked a lot better at home, where the stakes weren’t as high. Here, the unpredictability of it all, the never knowing what lay around the corner or if the person you said good morning to would be alive at the end of the day, meant that it was trust, not guns, not food, not even information, that was island’s most valuable currency. It was also the most fragile. The heightened anxiety wore on all of them, it encouraged deceit, and caused even the most genuine gestures to be suspect.
And since so many of his companions were skilled at divining truth (or thought they were) or manipulating it (or thought they were), a day didn’t seem to go by without a denouement worthy of Agatha Christie. Except he didn’t think Miss Marple was ever forced to resort to bamboo shoots under the nails or dig up a grave to confirm an identity or fake a kidnapping to regain the upper hand.
Even when he had nothing to hide, all Locke or Eko or even Claire had to do was look at him pointedly and his soul was stretched on a canvass for all to inspect. You can imagine what it felt like now, when the pockets of his conscience were weighted with rocks. If he were to step into a puddle, he would surely sink to the bottom of the ocean. Every morning he woke with a confession on his lips that only the sheer terror of banishment—which frightened him more than Jin killing him outright—prevented him from voicing.
Given all this, Charlie knew it was incongruous for him to play interrogator. But it was important and everyone else more suitable was distracted by pushing or not pushing buttons or preparing for Michael’s quest to pay much attention to the intoxicated stranger lolling about their camp.
“He’s harmless,” Jack had said when Charlie approached him about the Desmond situation.
Harmless? Charlie thought. Even if the man wasn’t in league with Henry, he was obviously a nutter and he shouldn’t be left unsupervised, let alone armed. Plus he probably had tons of answers like how often the food parcels dropped or did the vaccine have any side effects or who the hell was Geronimo Jackson. But even Sayid didn’t seem overly curious or concerned. He waved Charlie away, explaining there were more pressing matters at hand, which of course, he refused to share.
“I’ll talk to him when I get back,” Sayid had promised.
If you come back, Charlie added silently. If Desmond didn’t blow up the camp while you were gone or disappear on the helicopter he conveniently forgot to tell anyone about or die of alcohol poisoning.
So after Jack and Sayid’s parties left by land and sea, Charlie set off to question the Scotsman on his own. He expected to find him passed out and difficult to rouse so he was surprised to come across Desmond upright, though not without a bottle glued to his hand. He stood in the middle of the unfinished church, staring up at the cloudless sky.
Charlie joined him on the platform and picked up the axe leaning against one of the support posts. He couldn’t imagine using it but holding it made him feel better. Desmond seemed unaware he was no longer alone, so Charlie cleared his throat. “Hey.”
Desmond didn’t move but he replied, “You’re building a church.”
Charlie raised an eyebrow. “Yeah.” No one else had figured that out.
“Sorry brother,” he said, turning to face Charlie. “I don’t think God knows about this island.”
“I’m not your brother.”
Desmond regarded him and the axe solemnly, took a swig from his bottle. “Aye, you’re not.”
He circled Desmond, holding the axe with the blade pointed down, swinging it lightly. “How long did you say you were down in the hatch?”
“One thousand, one hundred and thirty-five days.”
“All by yourself?”
“Ah right, your absentee partner.”
“Kelvin.” The way he said it made it sound like a cross between a disease and its cure.
“And where’s this Kelvin now?”
Desmond squinted. “Do I know you? Have we met?”
The question caught Charlie off guard, not because Desmond claimed to recognize him, but for once he had no desire to bring up his former celebrity. For better or for worse, who he had once been back home seemed further and further away from who he was now. Plus responding would let Desmond control the course of this conversation and he couldn’t let that happen. He squared his shoulders and asked again, “What happened to Kelvin?”
Desmond turned away and mumbled something.
Charlie stopped pacing, took a step closer. “What?”
Desmond looked him straight in the eye. “He’s dead.”
“How’d he die?”
Desmond finished off the rest of his bottle, tossed it aside. It rolled across the bamboo floor, landed in the sand with a dull thud. “I killed him,” he said softly, and his eyes returned to focus on the sky.
Anywhere else this admission would be a revelation but Charlie had been marinating in a context of death and violence for the last two months so it only half surprised him. Nor did it enlighten him all that much about Desmond’s character. On the island he had been witness to every motive for killing from mercy to self defence to varying degrees of premeditated and spontaneous malice. Perhaps the only thing missing was a crime of passion, unless that was the same as vengeance, if so, he owned that one himself.
“Are you sorry?”
Desmond’s patience snapped. His voice turned from a gentle drawl to a menacing snarl. “Am I sorry? What type of question is that?”
“I think it’s a pretty simple question.”
Desmond shook his finger in Charlie’s face, his eyes shone with a manic gleam. “You may be building a church, but you’re not my confessor.” He walked to the edge of the platform, jumped off and stumbled across the sand to where he had left his bag. He rummaged through it and retrieved another bottle, dug deeper and came up with a corkscrew.
Charlie followed. “I have a right to know what type of man you are.”
Desmond knelt in the sand and laughed, an unstable sound that went on longer than Charlie figured he should have had breath for. When he finished, he asked, half hurt, half amused, “You think I’m one of them, a hostile?”
Charlie swung the axe onto his shoulder. “Gee, why would I think that? It’s not as if every five minutes one of them is trying to infiltrate us or every time we come across you, you shoot first, ask questions later. Oh and you just told me you killed your partner. The Others, they tend to dabble in murder.”
“What about your people, blowing holes in my hatch, breaking into my boat? And you, waving that axe around. I’m supposed to trust you?”
“If you stuck around long enough, you’d know we’re the good guys.” As soon as he said it, Charlie realized that statement came with certain qualifiers.
“Is that an invitation?”
Charlie frowned. This hadn’t gone at all like he planned. His questions had been too obvious and he shouldn’t have got so defensive and now Desmond was looking at him with the desperate gaze of a stray mutt eyeing space on a flea ridden blanket. How did Sayid make this look so easy?
He laid the axe aside, flopped down onto the sand beside Desmond and gave up. “You were probably right to leave us. We’re kind of a ‘marked’ people.”
“We’re all living on borrowed time, brother—sorry, it’s a habit. I don’t know your name.”
“Charlie.” Desmond seemed to temporarily brighten. “Like Mr. Dickens.”
“I guess so.”
Desmond stabbed the cork and started twisting. Charlie noticed how his hands shook. He bit back a comment about enabling demons and placed his hands on top of Desmond’s, pulled the bottle away and took over twisting the corkscrew. He put the bottle between his knees, pulled gently. The cork came out with a satisfying pop.
Desmond accepted the bottle but he didn’t drink immediately. Instead he proceeded to deliver a remarkably sober sounding monologue. “The timid hand stretched forth to aid a brother in his need, A kindly word in grief's dark hour that proves a friend indeed; The plea for mercy softly breathed, When justice threatens high, The sorrow of a contrite heart; These things shall never die.”
Charlie shook his head and allowed himself a smile. If Desmond was who he said he was, then he was impressed that the man was still alive after three years and only this insane. Maybe there was hope for the rest of them yet. “Well, you’ll fit in just fine here. Everyone’s got their thing.”
He held the bottle out but Charlie shook his head. Desmond took a small drink, wiped his mouth. They sat quietly for a while, watching the ocean, gray and flat this morning.
“It was an accident,” Desmond finally spoke again. “But I was sorry but for the wrong reasons.”
Charlie picked up a fistful of sand, let it run through his fingers. “Mine wasn’t an accident and I wasn’t sorry, but that’s not the worse I’ve done since I’ve been here.”
“These things shall never die.” Desmond sighed, then tipped the bottle back.
Their confessions filled the space between them, hung there for a moment, then floated away. Though it he hadn’t said it to the right person, Charlie was convinced he hadn’t said it to the wrong person.
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