Title: The Other – 08 – The ReturnSpoilers: set from about episode 14 of the new season, from there its just spec and my muse having some fun Summary: Charlie, unable to cope with Claire’s estrangement any longer, sets off into the jungle alone. But after a month of pain and hardships, he stumbles across something he wasn’t ever expecting to find out there…Disclaimer: Isn’t mine, never has been, never will be and I promise I’m not making any money – writing fanfiction is simply for my own self-satisfaction. Lyrics in the cut are from “Been Away Too Long” by The Whitlams~*~‘Can you smell that?’Charlie raised his nose to the mid afternoon breeze and sniffed energetically. His face was gaunt again – two months of near starving in the jungle split up by a weeks worth of good eating hadn’t done much for him.‘What exactly am I meant to be smelling Grace? Because all I can smell is salt. And sand. And water. And jungle. And…well that’s really about it.’‘Smoke Charlie.’Charlie’s eyes immediately darted to the jungle. He scanned down the beach and then beyond. His stomach jolted with excitement. He could just make out a plume of smoke, maybe four kilometres away, rising above the canopy.His face split into a wide grin.‘It’s them.’~*~The first person they saw was Sayid, fiddling with some form of electronics at his solitary fire, taking the occasional sip from his water bottle.Charlie called his name and watched as Sayid’s head went up like a shot. His piercingly dark eyes found Charlie and then he leapt to his feet, his face contorting into something close to a smile as he ran to him and threw his arms around his shoulders.‘Charlie! My God – we all thought you were dead!’‘I nearly was,’ Charlie admitted, unable to stop grinning. ‘A couple of times actually. But I’m back now.’‘I am glad to hear it,’ Sayid said, but his smile froze in place as Grace stepped up behind Charlie, holding her daughter close to her chest.‘What?’ Charlie glanced over his shoulder, then gave a loud ‘oh!’ of comprehension. ‘It’s okay Sayid. This is Grace. I found her,’ Grace glanced pointedly at him and Charlie looked bashful. ‘Well…actually she found me. She took me in, that’s where I’ve been the past few months. Living in another one of the other hatches.’Sayid’s eyes roamed over the tall girl before him. She returned his gaze unflinchingly and then extricated a hand to shake his.‘Hello Sayid,’ Grace said slowly. Sayid took her hand warily and shook it before turning back to Charlie.‘Jack will want to know that you are back.’Charlie ignored this. ‘Do you know where Claire is?’Sayid pursed his lips, trying not to smile. ‘I’m not certain. I saw Jack only ten minutes ago just a little further up the beach but I haven’t seen Claire today. I’m sure you’ll get to see her soon enough.’Charlie allowed himself to be led down the beach, Grace latched onto his sleeve and refused to let go but he didn’t pay her any heed. As they walked, people came rushing out to greet him and exclaim over the young girl with the baby. Who was she? Where did she come from? Was she one of the Others?‘Charlie!’‘Where y’been?’ ‘Hey it’s Charlie!’‘Well look who’s back!’‘Hey Chassy!’Suddenly, Charlie felt like the most popular man in the world. He could scarcely believe that he’d been dreading this day. By the time he got to Jack’s tent, he had a small entourage of people crowded around him, asking questions, wanting to know where he’d been. Kate even went as far as running up and throwing her arms around his neck, a wide smile on her tear-streaked face.But where was Claire? Charlie’s head swivelled to and fro looking for her, even as Jack barraged him with questions about where he’d been, chastised him for what he’d done, began to check Grace and Hayley over…Rose was at his elbow, tutting at all the weight he’d lost, Kate was still next to him, beaming, Jin was grinning at him from across the way and countless other faces were smiling at him, pressing in from all sides to see him...And then quite suddenly he saw her. She was holding Aaron and was walking and talking with Eko. Charlie tried to push his way out and called her name. His voice, however, was lost in the general hubbub.‘Claire!’ he bellowed her name again and again, trying to push through the crowd, becoming increasingly frustrated...Claire was frowning at the crowd of people, obviously wondering what was going on but then a moment later, Eko saw Charlie and his face split into a smile. He turned to Claire and tapped her on the shoulder, pointing towards Charlie and said something in her ear. She looked over sharply and quite suddenly, their eyes met.Her jaw dropped.And then next moment she had thrust Aaron into Eko’s arms and was sprinting across the sand towards him. Charlie pushed several people out of his way, not even caring if he shoved anyone over and then he stood there, his arms open as Claire fairly flew the last few steps towards him and threw her arms around his neck.Charlie staggered backwards as he took the brunt of Claire’s weight and he swung her around in a full circle, both of them laughing wildly. The sense of joy was almost overwhelming – Charlie squeezed his eyes shut and just revelled in the feel, the smell of her. After almost two full rotations, he set her back onto her feet and the two of them rocked from side to side for a moment before Claire drew back, her hands resting lightly on his chest.‘You rotten sod!’ she chastised him and then she did something that nobody had been expecting, and slapped him hard across the face. ‘You’ve had everyone so worried! We thought you were dead!’‘I nearly was,’ Charlie vision was far too blurred by his tears to focus on her properly. He blinked heavily and tried to wipe them away, feeling self-conscious, before he realised that she was crying as well. ‘More times than I can count. But I’m here now.’Claire was biting her lip, trying her best to control her own tears but finding it impossible. She gave something that wasn’t quite a sob but wasn’t exactly a laugh either and then leant up to kiss him warmly.It was nothing like the kiss he had given her when he had left – that had been bitter and sad and had left nothing but a feeling of melancholy behind. But this kiss, surrounded by so many smiles and happy faces, and with the joy being reunited fresh on their skin…It felt like home.Vaguely, Charlie heard Kate say ‘Didn’t she just slap him a minute ago?’ but he ignored her and focused instead on Claire, on the feel of her arms around his neck and her lips, finally against his…It was Claire who finally pulled away. Her hands lingered on the front of his shirt and she smiled up at him, suddenly shy.‘I-I gather this means that you’re talking to me again then?’ Charlie stammered as Eko nudged Claire and she took her son back, looking slightly dazed.‘Um…I guess so, yeah.’But suddenly Charlie was frowning and he touched his cheek.‘Did you slap me?’Claire looked utterly astonished. ‘Did I?’‘Charlie…’‘Hang on, I’m just…’ Charlie swatted at the hand on his sleeve but then stopped in recognition of the voice and turned to see Grace at his shoulder looking decidedly nervous. In all the excitement, he had completely forgotten about her. ‘Oh. Sorry! Erm, Claire? This is Grace. Grace, Claire.’Claire’s eyes flickered over the younger girls face and then onto the baby in her arms but next moment she had extricated a hand and extended it towards her.‘Hi,’Grace nervously shook her hand but after a moment she offered Claire a smile. ‘I am very pleased to meet you. Charlie talked of you very often.’‘Did he just?’ Claire glanced at him, a teasing smile on her lips and his ears burned red.‘Yes,’ Grace said, unabashed. ‘Once I got him talking he could not stop.’ She peered at the bundle in Claire’s arms. ‘And this must be your son?’‘Yeah,’ Claire hitched him a little higher in her arms. ‘This is Aaron.’Grace frowned. ‘I thought his name was Erin?’Claire frowned back, looking more puzzled than upset. ‘No, no it’s definitely Aaron.’‘Oh,’ Grace pondered this for a moment and then opened her mouth again. ‘It must just be the way that Charlie says his name. It sounds like Erin when he says it.’‘I am right here,’ Charlie pointed out.‘Okay yeah and as fun as all this is, I really need to kick your ass Charlie,’ Jack interjected, steering him firmly into his tent. Claire, Grace, Kate and Sayid followed as everyone else dispersed slowly, buzzing excitedly.Jack waited until Charlie was seated before offering him a drink bottle. Charlie drank greedily before offering the bottle to Grace who was standing, restless and uncomfortable. Kate and Sayid hovered in the doorway and Claire sat down next to Charlie, shoulder-to-shoulder and peered sideways at him, waiting for him to speak.Jack leant forward expectantly, his dark eyes puzzling. ‘So what exactly happened out there Charlie?’It took the better part of an hour for Charlie to tell his tale, with occasional input from Grace and by the time he’d finished, the sky had gone dark and the torches had been lit up and down the beach.When he reached the point where the man had invaded the hatch however, Charlie found himself unable to continue and had instead skipped over the shooting and straight on into the trek home.Jack’s brow furrowed when Charlie fell silent at the end. ‘What I don’t understand is why you decided to set off home right after Hayley was born. Wouldn’t you have waited a day or two for Grace to rest first?’‘The reason we left,’ Grace explained swiftly, ignoring Charlie’s frown. ‘Was because a man came into the hatch. One of the Others. He said that there were more of them coming to take over the hatch and so Charlie shot him and we fled.’‘So do they know that one of ours was over the line?’ Jack ran a hand over his head, looking thoroughly depressed.‘I suppose so,’ Grace shrugged. ‘I know they were following us for some of the way back.’‘WHAT?’ Charlie looked at Grace, aghast. ‘You never told me that!’Grace looked surprised. ‘I thought that you knew!’‘If I’d known we were being followed I wouldn’t have come back here!’ Charlie’s voice rose suddenly. ‘Dammit Grace! The Others are going to know where we are now! They’ll come and they’ll…they’ll…’ his voice trailed off into a hopeless sigh and Jack shook his head.‘Never mind Charlie. They probably already knew where we were anyway – we just need to hope that they don’t get pissed off at us for crossing the line.’ He rose to his feet. ‘As it is, I think you both need rest before anything else – you’re both exhausted.’Charlie allowed himself to be led to a blanket and a bowl of fruit whilst Claire and Grace put Aaron and Hayley to sleep together, but he refused to sleep. The thought of the Others coming here, because he had led them here – no matter if it had been an accident. What would they do? What would be the punishment for crossing the line?Angrily, he ground his hands into the sand and it wasn’t until dawn came that he finally fell asleep, exhausted from countless inner diatribes.When Grace found him he was fast asleep, his face scrunched up in misery whilst he slept. She felt a curious sensation of déjà vu as she covered him in a blanket and brushed his fringe out of his eyes – unaware that Claire was watching silently from her shelter.