stefanie_bean: (lost people)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 1: The Hollow Men (3790 words)
Pairing: Ben/Annie
Characters: Benjamin Linus, Annie, Roger Linus, Horace Goodspeed, Ethan Rom, Richard Alpert, Charles Widmore, Jacob
Rating: T
Status: Complete

Summary: She was the light of his dark childhood, torn from him by circumstances. Then, in the midst of war, she returned.

Chapter 1: The Hollow Men

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw.

- T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Ben Linus met Annie Lamont at the age of eight, a friendless, motherless child brought to the Island by his father in early 1973. The recession hit Portland before a lot of places, and no one wanted Roger to paint their houses or barns anymore. Roger skated along from one odd job to the next, but like the song said, all he got was “another day older and deeper in debt.”

Then there was the probation. All he did was sell a little speed, twenty bucks worth. What was all the fuss about? It's not like he was some big-time dealer. For two years Roger couldn't leave the state, and that sure cut down on the jobs. If somebody needed him in Vancouver or Mt. Vista, he was shit-out-of-luck. So the less Roger worked, the more he drank, until that day when he got a phone call from somebody named Horace.

“Old Whore-ass,” Roger said to the uncomprehending Ben, laughing as if the boy had joined in, rather than staring blankly. A few phone calls later, Roger made the announcement: they were moving. Leaving this shit-stained town for good, because Old Whore-ass had offered him a job. Best of all, he got Roger's probation lifted, so that he could go in the first place. It was kind of complicated; even Roger himself didn't know how Horace Goodspeed had pulled it off.

“Lawyers, I guess,” Roger snickered. “These rich bastards, they all got lawyers.”

* * * * * * * *

When a sick, dazed Ben got off the submarine, he was hers from the first moment he caught a glimpse of her across the dock. They didn't speak until he saw her again in the Dharma Recruitment Station, but it was enough. Their friendship sparked up suddenly and caught fire.

As the new kid in school, Ben was too shy to talk to anyone, even Annie. Sure, she'd given him a candy bar at the Dharma Initiative Orientation Station, but this was different. This was school, and he didn't blame her for not returning his glance every time he tried to catch her eye. Then Miss Olivia announced that because Ben was new, they would do something special. They'd been interrupted by that unfortunate Hostiles attack, but now they would have some fun.

The volcano demonstration continued. They were to get into pairs and make one of their own. Miss Olivia put Ben and Annie together, and Ben thought his heart would burst with anticipation. When Annie's flour volcano exploded, turning her into a gnomish old lady with thick white pigtails, her mouth forming a pink round “O” in her astonished face, Ben knew that he loved her.

Roger hated living on the Island. When Ben came home from school, Roger lay half-asleep on the couch instead of working. “No television,” Roger griped. “If they would have told me there was no TV, I'd have never come. A man can't even watch the goddamn fights.”

Sometimes Roger did stay asleep, and Ben tiptoed past, hoping not to wake him. If Roger did stir, Ben would have to listen to a whining, slurred monologue, which ended with a smack, or a beer can tossed across the room at Ben's head.

Annie's father never drank or hit her. Her parents worked in a laboratory somewhere else on the Island. No one was supposed to know where they went, not even Annie, who was ordered to stay in the house while they were gone. She didn't listen to them, of course. After her mother and father left, she roamed the Barracks and the outlying hills all the way to the sonic fence. It was either that, or sit in the lonely, bare cottage.

Whenever Roger caught Ben with Annie, he dragged him roughly away, or even cuffed him. “Why would she care to play with the likes of you? She's the daughter of a scientist, and you're a janitor's kid.”

Ben told Annie everything: about Roger's bouts of drunkenness, the blows, even that he'd seen his dead mother in the window, on the night that the Hostiles tried to shoot up their school. Annie didn't laugh at him, or say that he was crazy.

Those golden days were bright enough to light up a lifetime.

His birthday arrived, the first on the Island, and with it her present. Miss Olivia had helped her get started, although Annie had done most of the work herself.

Ben took the crudely-painted wooden doll home, floating on air, until Roger shot him down like a clay pigeon. Just like Ben to remind Roger of the day that his mother died. Tear-stricken, Ben ran blindly to the sonic fence, where a strange woman stood pale in the moonlight.

Ben knew what would happen if he crossed the invisible sonic barrier. Terrified, twisted with emotion, he stumbled back to the Barracks. Instead of going straight home, he sneaked around back of Annie's house, and tossed one piece of gravel, then another at her window. Finally she stuck her head out.

“Your father's going to tan your hide,” she said.

“I hate him. Hope he dies. I just came to tell you that I'm running away. And I want you to come with me.”

She looked around to see if anyone was looking. “I'm scared, Ben. The jungle scares me.”

“I'll go first. I'll make a place for us, where we can hide. We can go fishing and eat fruit. They'll never catch us.”

“But there's Hostiles.”

“We'll join them.”

Her jaw dropped. Hoping it was true, Ben said, “They don't have to go to school or sit home by themselves all day. They run around the jungle and shoot things. They have fun.” He really had Annie's attention now. “Tomorrow I'm going to find them.”

When Ben came back, he took his punishment with a hard face and only a few tears. Nor did he tell Annie about the strange man he had met in the woods, the one with the funny clothes and long hair who told him that he had to be “very, very patient.” Ben had come back to Annie empty-handed, and she knew it.

She didn't mention anything more about running away, and neither did he.

After Thanksgiving, everything collapsed. Annie met Ben at the gazebo, and in a voice thick with tears told him that she were moving to California. Her parents had brought her to the Island when she was two, and it was the only life she'd ever known. Why did they have to go work on some dumb Dharma station in Los Angeles? Didn't they have enough to do here? It wasn't fair. Now she had to move to some strange place, where she didn't know anyone.

As she sobbed, Ben's world imploded. He uttered one inanity after another. It wouldn't be too bad. She could go to Hollywood. She could watch movies in a real theater, not on a wrinkled screen set up in the Barracks cafeteria. There would be television, not grainy, jerky shows in the Barracks rec room.

Annie stared at him, and her silence sizzled like the fuse of a bomb. Then she spun around and fled with such energy that when the tears flew off her face, a few hit Ben's cheek.

A few weeks later she was gone, leaving Ben to the loneliest birthday of his young life.

Two summers later, Ben had some kind of accident. All he could remember was waking up in a tent with that strange man from the jungle and a bunch of his friends. The man called himself Richard, and he and his friends called themselves the “Good People.” Ben stayed with them a week, before they dropped him off at the sonic fence.

For months afterward his memory was a tangled jumble, but he never forgot Annie.

During his sickness there had been a terrible accident at one of the drilling sites, and most of the moms and their kids had left, but not Ben or Roger.

Months passed, and only a few children came back to the Island. Miss Olivia squeezed everybody into one classroom, but one by one the few older kids drifted away, because it was too boring to listen to Miss Olivia teach the first graders how to read. She let them go, because the little ones still looked at her with love and adoration, rather than with the simmering hatred which poured off the older children.

* * * * * * * *

At sixteen, Ben put on a workman's uniform, and joined his father mopping floors and scrubbing toilets. But there was always a book in Ben's back pocket. By then he was working closely with Richard.

Ben had keys to every Dharma Initiative office in the Barracks. Sometimes he stole papers, but mostly he put his prodigious memory to work. He quickly scanned memos or papers, then followed up later with a flawless redaction to Richard, or the Good People's leader Charles Widmore.

Even though the Barracks weren't crowded anymore, Ben continued to live with Roger Linus. No one would have cared if he took a bunk in the dormitories or even squatted in a house of his own. Richard didn't want him to, though, and for Ben, Richard's word was law.

Ben didn't miss Annie that much anymore, even though there were no girls his age at the Barracks. Most of the women were older, and the few girls were just kids. Even Horace and Amy had no more children after Ethan. Ben always had a kind word or treat for the little squirt, because Ben felt sorry for him growing up alone like that. He could relate.

Whispers and rumors floated through the Barracks. The few women who did get pregnant were hastily evacuated, and none of them came back. Wherever they went, Ben neither knew nor cared.

Richard was getting more agitated, too. While he never criticized what Ben brought him, he wanted medical records, and that meant trips to the infirmary, which Ben hated. He couldn't say why. Whenever he walked by the low-slung yellow building, cold fingers of fear clutched his throat. But he did what Richard asked.

Richard was particularly interested in the new station being built in a remote jungle location far south of the Barracks. What were they up to? Why were they moving medical supplies there? Whatever documents there were, Ben could find them.

Ben took lessons from Richard, too, like none he'd ever had in Miss Olivia's school. How to move through the trees and make no sound. How to find his way around the Island using only the sun or the stars. How to live on the forest's bounty, and if none could be found, how to endure starvation and thirst.

On other days, Richard didn't lay harsh woodcraft lessons on Ben, or press him for information. Sometimes they simply sat under the tall trees and talked.

Ben treasured those moments above all.

As sunlight filtered through the great ironwood trees, Richard's words played over Ben like a soothing violin. There was a war going on, long before Ben was even born. In early 1953, sailors with gigantic ships full of concrete, supplies and guns had come to the Island. They brought soldiers with them who built a radio tower, so that they could talk to their massive supply ships.

Then dozens more ships arrived, loaded down with supplies. Sweating in the tropical heat, the men mixed concrete for the bunkers which they planted all over the Island. They chopped down ancient trees and started building what looked like a small town in the Island's northern center.

The men's canvas tents dotted the Island's green fields like fever blisters. The oblivious soldiers never knew that the Good People watched them constantly. They cut trees for firewood, hunted boar, and littered the beaches with their cigarette butts. They speared crabs with bayonets, or shot seagulls for target practice. They cursed the sun, the sea, and especially the lack of native women. They even missed the Honolulu brothels, because two hours in line for ten minutes of fun was better than nothing.

Some of the Good People wanted to strike right away, drive them off the Island, even kill them, but Richard talked them out of it. It was Jacob's will. Let them do what they came for, whatever that was.

So the soldiers continued to build. Nine months later, a whole mock town had grown up, complete with community center and even an officer's club. The military leaders had arguments which Richard couldn't understand, just that something had gone wrong with some test. Eventually the officers and their aides moved into the village called the Barracks, leaving the rest of the men to roam the Island.

A year after the sailors arrived, a young Royal Australian marine named Charles Widmore strode into the Good People's camp. Bold as brass, he demanded to speak to Richard, alone. When Richard emerged from the meeting, he shook as if with fever.

Richard had heard of artillery, even seen it in action. But Widmore's story was incredible. The new men were building something they had named Jacob's Ladder, part of a project called Operation Castle.

The gigantic iron cylinder coated with lead was called Jughead, and was designed to blow up directly on the Island itself. Military scientists would observe from their ship, fifty miles offshore. Afterward, they would survey what was left, especially of the Barracks, as the whole point was to find out what damage a ten-megaton ground burst would do to a small American town.

“Why are you telling us this?” Richard wanted to know.

“Because I like it here,” Widmore answered. “I didn't go AWOL just to get buried under a pile of radioactive glass.”

Richard tied Widmore to a tree and threatened him with torture for his outrageous lies. Then Richard went to speak with Jacob, wondering if Widmore might actually be telling the truth. No one could concoct such an extravagant story with a straight face. Who could believe that big cylinder of lead could destroy entire islands, cities even, whose fireball would consume everything, leaving only glass or ash? Unbelievable, yet Jacob must be told.

Jacob sat at the sea-side in front of a simmering pot full of twigs and sticks, dyeing some linen fabric. As he spooned the golden-brown cloth around in the pot, he seemed unconcerned, indifferent, even.

Yes, he knew of these bombs which had already brought two cities to rubble. Yes, he knew what an explosion like that might do to the Island. Then Jacob kept on stirring.

“Aren't you at least worried about this Widmore?” Richard said.

Jacob gave Richard a long, world-weary look, not even annoyed. “Why? I brought him here.”

Two days later, Richard returned to find Widmore strolling about the camp-site free as you please. Most of the Good People had already pledged their fealty to him, including the tender and beautiful Ellie Hawking. At seventeen, she had just passed through the ritual of womanhood and was now at liberty to choose a man. Both the Good People and their new chieftain were of one mind. The sailors, soldiers, and officers of Joint Task Force One were to die. All of them.

Richard just shook his head, incredulous.

Something confused Ben, though, as he listened to Richard's story. “I thought you were the one in charge of the Good People.”

It didn't work like that. He, Richard, was simply an advisor. An intercessor, if you will. And if the Good People had chosen a mere buck-private deserter and a fresh-faced girl of seventeen summers to lead them, that was no skin off Richard's nose, as foolish as Richard might have found it. Jacob would do as he willed.

Most of the Joint Task Force had already abandoned Jughead and the Island itself, leaving only a skeleton crew. After the Good People dispatched them all, they helped themselves to guns, tents, barrels of supplies. A few of the Good People even sailed over to the one remaining Joint Task Force research vessel, where they scuttled her, after killing the crew.

Long years of peace followed, where only those washed up in shipwrecks came to the Island. Those who didn't fall off cliffs or get torn to pieces in the jungle joined the Good People. It was a time of contentment, and Richard smiled as he remembered it.

Richard also told Ben the story of Jacob. He was a great man, more than a man, almost. He held all of them in the palm of his hand, cared for them, protected them. Jacob's love was like God's, and like God, Jacob had chosen them to be his special people. They weren't only the Good People; they were Jacob's People as well.

So while the soldiers and sailors with their bomb had started the war, their departure didn't finish it, not by a long shot. For after an interlude of peace, the Dharma Initiative showed up.

Richard didn't understand why Jacob had let the Dharma research group move into the old military bunkers and barracks, or let them set up their experimental stations all over the Island. Nor could Richard see why Jacob looked the other way when the newcomers hunted down the Good People on a lark, or took them to Hydra Island as experimental subjects. There had to be some good reason.

“What was that reason?” Ben wanted to know.

Jacob's ways weren't their ways, Richard explained. He was never to be challenged or questioned, only obeyed.

“I'm ready to obey. Anything. Anything Jacob wants me to do, I'll do.”

“I appreciate that, Benjamin. But you need to be patient. There are still many things which you haven't learned.”

As in any war, Richard explained, the good guys had a right to defend themselves, and when they did, there would always be collateral damage. That's why Richard needed Ben to keep doing his job. He was the best spy they'd ever had in the whole course of this great war. Despite multiple truces, the Dharma people broke their promises time and again. They couldn't be trusted, and that's why Richard needed Ben.

Richard leaned in to Ben, his piercing eyes dark and serious. There were things under the earth, Island forces that shouldn't be disturbed. That's why the Good People had insisted on no drilling, ever.

Further, there were places on the Island where Dharma was to never go, places special to Jacob. Dharma went there anyway, dug their mines and planted their generators. The data Ben gathered gave the Good People what they needed to slow them down. What Ben did was crucial to the war. And one day Jacob would personally thank him for it.

So for years Ben worked with Richard from behind the sonic fence. His days lurched between long bouts of unrelieved janitorial tedium and heart-stopping instances when it seemed he would be caught. But he never was.

Then, at the start of a new year with no more hope than any of the old ones, Annie returned.

* * * * * * * *

She stood on the dock, unsteady from the submarine voyage, long blonde hair blowing in the breeze. She clutched a small suitcase like it was the only stable vantage point in a wildly rollicking world. The lean, scruffy man next to her was her father, entirely gray now.

Annie had grown, but Ben would have known her anywhere. Her eyes, though, were hard and sad, as if she had suffered on long, difficult roads.

He had just turned twenty-one.

At first Ben didn't see much of her. Dr. Lamont's work often took him away from the Barracks, and Annie went along. On some golden afternoons, though, Dr. Lamont went to conferences with Horace Goodspeed, and Ben and Annie would sit in the gazebo like they used to, not touching, just enjoying one another's company.

Usually she shrank in on herself, but more often the old sweet smile peeked forth as small bits of her history came out. Her mom had left them and gone back to Ann Arbor. They were getting a divorce, but that was fine with Annie, because her mom had never been home much anyway. Her dad finished up his Dharma work in Los Angeles and decided to come back to the Island. Annie didn't want to, but she had no job and no money of her own. She had just flunked out of college after two years of complete disinterest.

Her laugh was hollow. “My dad doesn't know what to do with me.”

One day Annie and her father had a fight on the commons lawn, while Ben and Roger raked leaves around the gazebo. Ben pretended to ignore them, but he heard everything. Annie announced that she was staying in their house at the Barracks from now on, instead of going to that horrible station in the mountains.

“It's boring as hell,” she shouted. “Type one column of numbers after another onto punch cards, then feed them into the card readers, while you fiddle with equipment all day long. I'm sick of sleeping on a cot instead of a proper bed, with computers keeping me up all night. No wonder they call it 'the Tempest.' It's certainly loud as one!”

Her father tried to hush her. “Quiet! Don't say that name, that's a classified project!”

She kept shouting at him. He was crazy if he thought she was returning to college on the mainland. She wasn't going anywhere. She liked it here on the Island. At twenty, she could do as she pleased.

The argument swerved onto a whole new tack.

“What do you think you're going to do with your life?” her father raged, no longer caring who heard. “I have two PhDs, one in physics, one in chemistry. You couldn't even pass college algebra.”

Only his influence at UCLA had gotten her in, in the first place. Ungrateful, that's what she was. Nothing but ingratitude since she was a child. “Frittering away your time on nothing.” What was he going to do with her? She might as well stay in the Barracks, because she was useless to his research, with no inclination for the simplest scientific tasks.

“You should just put on a workman's uniform, like those two over there.” Dr. Lamont waved at Ben, who winced and looked away even as he continued to rake. But Ben didn't forget. He never forgot.



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