stefanie_bean: (lost people)
[personal profile] stefanie_bean
Chapter 3: Cactus Land (2676 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, until she disappeared. Then she returned, promising love in the midst of war.


Chapter 3: Cactus Land

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

- T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

No one in the ranks of the Good People thought anything of it when Annie crept away from camp early in the morning to throw up behind the scrubby bushes. There had been almost no pregnant women on the Island since the mass evacuation over ten years before. Most of the young Dharma women were long gone, or had had their “operations.” The women scientists were long past the age of bearing.

Among the women of Jacob's People, pregnancy was rare. Many took Richard Alpert's advice to heart and lived celibate lives, becoming warrior-priests and nuns for Jacob. Of the three women who had gotten with child in the past decade, one had stumbled off a cliff at ten weeks along, toppling into a ravine.

The second woman thought she was too old to fall pregnant. Her baby was born dead in the fifth month, and the mother herself died a few hours later. The other women told each other that it was because of her age, hoping it was true.

The third woman was young and strong, yet she grew sick halfway through her pregnancy, dying as well.

No one knew why, because sickness among Jacob's people was unknown. The older women blamed the mothers themselves. They must not have loved Jacob enough. They must have been disobedient. Just look at the woman who'd most recently died. She had a man of her own, but she had dallied with another in the jungle. It was her punishment.

Richard had no answer, and in fact, considered the whole question trivial. As he told them, he came from a place where women prayed desperately to the Blessed Virgin to survive childbirth, and half the time their prayers went unanswered. “In sorrow thou shalt bear children,” his god had said. Only the Virgin herself had been spared the pain and danger. And if even the Blessed Virgin Mary's own mother Saint Anne had suffered in childbirth, why should the women of Jacob's tribe be any different?

No help came from Jacob, either. To Richard, Jacob dropped vague hints of chosen ones called “candidates,” who would come from across the sea. That was more important than anything else. Jacob seemed as uninterested as Richard in the recent deaths.

Charles Widmore said nothing at all. His own children by two different women had been born off-Island. His lovers among the People raged, because they wanted babies of their own.

Thus, none of the women among Jacob's People had fallen pregnant recently. Until Annie.


* * * * * * * *


The yurt in which Ben and Annie lived was large and round, a leftover from the Island's atomic testing days. Ten-year-old Ethan moved in with them, almost as if he were their own child. Ben and Annie hung a sheet down the center, dividing it into two rooms.

After Ethan had gone out to join the fishermen, after Annie had made her morning pilgrimage to the shore to be sick, she and Ben would lie together, her pale body crossed by sun-shadows. They were alone, gloriously alone, and even Richard had given up on them. He let them be. The quiet moments right after dawn were theirs, all theirs.

After making love, they would dress and emerge to the routines of the day. Octopus had to be strung on lines, then hung out to dry. Ben helped drag in the fishermen's nets, full and heavy with pink, yellow or blue-gray fish. The women sat in clusters, mending nets, shelling clams or scallops, or just talking. Annie, his pearl, sat in the center of the warm and protective shell of the women of the Good People, a small smile on her round, sweet face.

Sometimes Ben and Richard would hunt, or join Widmore on his horse-taming and breeding expeditions. A small herd roamed the Island, the lead mare proud and independent, letting no one near her. Widmore had already captured one of her herd, a yearling who still refused to submit to the bridle.

Flax in the wide, fertile fields of the North Mesa had all sprouted into a wide swath of flowers, each like a tiny blue chip of sky fallen to earth. It would be a good harvest, and Ben looked forward to it all: the reaping, crushing the fibers, the spinning, the dyeing. Annie had already learned to weave, her small loom warped with thick white string.

For the first time in his life, Ben knew happiness.

One small blot marred the brightness, like a black dot which floats across the vision and can't be blinked away. The women of the Good People knew little of the ways of childbirth, and had only the vaguest understanding how to care for someone in Annie's condition.

As her belly grew, Annie's sickness didn't stop. Wasn't it supposed to? she wanted to know. No one had an answer. Now she was sick in the evenings, too, and the others in the camp looked askance at her, behind her back.

One evening she crept to Ben and cried on his shoulder, saying that she felt like “a monster.” It was true in a sense, for among the Good People Annie had become an object of both wonder and fear. Then, on the day when she couldn't get out of bed, the wonder mutated into terror, and no one felt that terror more acutely than Ben.



* * * * * * * *


Every sign was poor, as Annie lay on her cot weak with exhaustion. So that she could rest, Ethan was made to move in with a couple of the older boys. Sometimes at night, Ben heard through thin fabric walls the taunting voices of the bigger boys, followed by Ethan's sniffles and sharp yelps of pain. Then came the silence.

Ben tried not to think about it too much.

He lay by Annie's side, telling himself that her trembling spasms weren't really seizures, just fatigue. She grabbed his hand and pressed it against her belly, hard. “Do you feel anything?” she asked, over and over.

He felt nothing, but said that he did, anyway. She closed her eyes, comforted by his lie.

Worse, Annie started to bleed. It wasn't heavy, no more than the first or second day of a woman's cycle, but it didn't let up. Even the women with no direct experience of babies knew this was wrong. The dried moss which they used for their own monthly needs did nothing to staunch the tide. The women fed Annie broth made from drained animals' blood, but it did no good.

The only mercy was that by now, she was too weak to panic.

Ben knew she was going to die before she did. He sat by her side in the yurt, gripping her cold, sweating hand. Ethan was tall for his age, gifted with extraordinary intelligence and an almost sadistic intensity of purpose. He had already worked out his own revenge on his tent-mates, and now they avoided him, entering their yurt only to sleep, and even then with one eye open.

The boy's uncut brown hair fell over his eyes as he sat with Ben, both of them watching Annie's every move and breath. When she became delirious she called for Amy, not her mother, and Ethan cried a little. It was the first emotion over his dead parents Ethan had ever shown.

Ben wasn't there when she died. Widmore had sent him to spy on some French research scientists who had landed on the south point of Pala Peninsula. By the time Ben returned, they had already laid her cold, inert body in the burial tent.

The Good People committed their dead to the earth in several ways. Those who lived near the coast ignited the remains and cast them out to sea. Or, if they lived inland, they built a pyre. This was more chancy, as gathering that much wood took time, and there was always the danger that some dark spirit might seek out and claim the newly-dead.

Widmore held his tongue while they discussed it. He despised these superstitions.

Ben couldn't bear the thought of burning Annie and the child curled up inside of her. So out of sympathy for Ben, Widmore grudgingly allowed the third way.

In the dead of night they formed a long, torch-lit procession. Over his shoulder, Ben bore Annie, wrapped in the white cloth which had hung down the center of their yurt. There was no need for it anymore. Ethan walked alongside Ben silently, his stolid face set in stony, un-childlike anger.

Amid the huge, twisting roots of an ancient banyan tree, the Good People dug her grave. Ben curled her body into the customary fetal position and then, almost as an afterthought, laid beside her the little wooden doll of himself, which she had carved so long ago.

“Now we never have to be away from each other,” he whispered, before casting the first shovelful of earth.


* * * * * * * *


Opinions differed as to why Annie had died. The women couldn't find anything in her past or character to blame, which left them mostly silent. Then, one afternoon Ben overheard a couple of the men, whose casual remarks sent a spear of ice through Ben's guts.

“Maybe it was the gas,” one man suggested.

“How d'you figure?” his companion said.

“Some were more sensitive to it than others. Those died right away. But remember how many we had to shoot afterwards?”

“Yeah, gas could've got her anyway. Damn shame, that. She was a nice girl.” Then the two of them went back to their game of checkers, pushing around colored sea-shells on a crude, hand-painted board.

That evening, Richard came upon Ben as he sat in the banyan's cool green shadows, gazing at the freshly-dug grave mound. Ben had moved away the branches which concealed Annie's grave, leaving the red earth as naked and raw as the expression on his face.

“You've got to cover that up,” Richard said. “You know the rules.”

“Go to hell,” Ben said in a calm, conversational tone.

Richard shouldn't have looked as shaken as he did. After he pulled himself together, he told Ben that Widmore wanted to see him.

Hot flames of rebellion licked Ben from the inside out when Widmore told him of his next mission. He was to go back to Pala and kill the French woman, the only survivor of the scientific team. Further, Ben was to take Ethan with him. It was to be the boy's first experience with “cleansing the Island,” as Widmore called it. The boy was practically dancing with excitement as Ben left Widmore's tent, gripping Widmore's loaded pistol tightly in his hand.

Ben told Ethan to go gather their few supplies, more to get the boy out of his hair than anything else. He weighed the gun in his hand, gazing over at Widmore and Richard as they drank tea and talked in front of the camp's central fire. He opened the weapon and gazed into the chamber. Only four bullets. Widmore certainly was stingy with his ammunition.

Well, that was a number Ben could work with. After he took care of the French woman, he'd have a little surprise for the camp when he got back. One for Widmore, one for Richard (let's see whether that cock and bull story is true, or if Richard can actually die like other men), and one for himself.

Ethan would get by without him. Maybe he'd even be better off.

It was dark by the time Ben and Ethan arrived at the French woman's camp site. She lay asleep in the shadows, a fluffy aureole of hair surrounding her soft face, and younger than he had expected. He had imagined a woman more like those of the Good People, who even when young wore hard faces with tough skins, their hair frizzed by sun and sea-winds.

The French woman stirred in her sleep much in the way Annie used to, with a gentle sigh. The moon caught the roundness of her cheek, making a bright crescent line, one you might stroke ever so lightly with your fingers.

Her moonlit beauty held Ben captive for a few long seconds. It was hard to believe that she had killed her remaining team. Ethan chafed at the wait, anxious to begin.

Ben shushed him and moved forward. It was then that he heard the small whimper, the cry which broke the stillness of the night, and roused the French woman from her sleep.

A baby. A little one, too.

In the remaining instant before the French woman started to scream, Ben had already decided. He scooped the infant into his arms, pressing it close to his chest. Her babbling cries filled the night, but Ben didn't care, almost didn't even hear them.

You doubted Jacob, he told himself. Richard was right when he said you have no patience. Annie's gone, and your own child with her. But here's another one, almost dumped right into your lap. Why are you hesitating? You want Jacob to gift-wrap it for you?

The Island took, but the Island gave, too. Ben brandished the pistol that he would never use on the screaming woman, then drove her away with one shot fired into the air. “Alex,” she kept calling out. “Mon Alex.”

“Come on,” Ben snarled at Ethan. They ran until the French woman's sobs faded into the night.

“Why didn't you do it?” Ethan kept asking over and over. “And what d'you want one of those for?” The boy glared at the small bundle in Ben's arms.

Ben said nothing, just marched along through the night. It wasn't until the fires of the Good People's camp could be seen through the black screen of tree branches that Ben thought to unwrap the baby's blanket. Pulling aside the soft wad of moss which served as a diaper, he saw that the child was a little girl.

“Alex,” he said to himself softly. “Alexandra.”

Later that night, Ben handed the pistol back to Widmore, along with a scathing look of contempt. Then, when tiny Alex sent up a long siren-wail of hunger, he silently packed his bags, tied the howling baby to his chest with a strip of cloth, and stood for a long, tense moment in the center of the camp.

“I'm going back to the Barracks,” Ben said in a clear voice full of confidence. “There are things I need there. Anyone who wants to join me is welcome.”

A good half of Jacob's People followed him, including most of the women. Widmore watched them leave, hatred gleaming in his eyes in the red firelight. Richard said nothing.

Luckily for Ben and Alex both, Horace and Amy had never gotten rid of Ethan's crib or cloth diapers. Amy had breast-fed Ethan, though, and Ben almost gave in to black panic until one of the older women mentioned that Dr. Chang's wife once had an infant, too. An hour later, Alex was contentedly sucking away at a bottle of canned-milk formula, and Ben thought to himself that living was a sweet thing to do, after all.

Two weeks later, Widmore joined the Good People at the Barracks. He moved into a cottage as if it had been his idea all along, ignoring the light of revenge which always shone in Ben's eyes.

Alex thrived, and grew into a plump, laughing baby. Right about the time she learned to walk, another woman of their number fell pregnant. This one lasted a little longer than Annie had, almost six months, but she too had seizures, bled, fell unconscious, and died.

For Ben and Jacob's People, that was the year everything changed.

(the end)


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