Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Author's note: I have no doubt that this story will become obsolete once Lost returns from its hiatus in February, but I had to try my hand at writing something about my new favorite show.

A Matter of Months

It figured. It figured that the one time Juliet actually wanted to find that insufferable man, he was nowhere to be seen. And no one could tell her where he was -- Tom thought he might have left earlier in the day, and Colleen just smirked and said she didn't know. Colleen was always doing that, though. Misinterpreting every interaction between the two of them. Since things had gone wrong, at least. She didn't know what had happened. How, in a matter of months, had she come to think of him as "insufferable?"

After spending the better part of two hours searching for him, Juliet decided to give up and go home. If he was going to disappear for an entire day, it wasn't her responsibility to hunt him down. She'd bear no responsibility for him. That decision had been made. So she was going to go home, have something to eat, finish reading Carrie, and --

"I heard you were looking for me," a voice said from behind her.

She whirled. Ben was standing there, a tiny smile on his face. With a sigh (she wasn't sure if it was of relief or frustration), Juliet replied, "Yes. I needed to talk to you, Ben."

His pale eyes unreadable as usual, he said, "Go ahead."

Hesitating for an instant, Juliet moved closer to him and replied in a low tone, "Alone. In the clinic."

Something flashed across his face, but it was gone almost before she could register it. A pinched brow, a darkening of the eyes, thinned lips? But his expression settled back into composedness and he nodded curtly.

The clinic was clean and white, with plenty of sunlight streaming in through the windows. Juliet found it pleasant and comforting most of the time and she hoped the others did too. Today, however, it looked stark, almost menacing. She shut the door after they entered and gestured for Ben to sit down while she hurried into her office.

A manila folder, unlabeled, was sitting neatly on top of her desk. With a deep breath, she quickly snatched it up and rejoined Ben, pulling up a chair next to him.

"You're even more cheerful today than normal," Ben said idly, as if he were making an observation about the weather.

Instead of responding, she held up the folder. "I have your x-rays."

His eyes rested on it for a moment before flicking upwards to meet hers. "This," he said softly, "must be why you're in such a good mood."

She switched on a backlight and clipped one of the x-ray photos to it. For several interminably long seconds, Ben just stared at it. Juliet watched him. She didn't want to look at these again. Her morning had been spent trying to imagine some way she could be wrong about what the photos showed.

Finally, Ben looked at her. There was something in his eyes now. Doubt? Fear? "What is it?" he asked her, though from his tone, she could tell that he already knew.

Clearing her throat, Juliet told him, "A tumor." It was an effort to keep her voice from shaking. "It's a tumor that's going to kill you if it's not removed."

A stifling silence settled on the room. Faint voices and laughter drifted in from outside, but it was as if those sounds belonged in another world. Right now her whole world consisted of this deathly still room. Just her, Ben, and pictures of a massive tumor growing on his spine.

"What if..." Ben cocked his head at her and paused for a second to think. "What if it were taken out? Surely it can be operated on."

She bit her lip and looked away from him. "In theory. But I don't know who could do it."

"You could."

In her sudden shock at that statement, she forgot that she'd decided not to meet his eyes again for the remainder of this conversation. His gaze was piercing, earnest...she leapt to her feet. "No, I can't," she said vehemently.

He didn't get up, but he watched her from his chair. Whatever raw emotion there had been on his face was smoothed away by a slow blink of his eyes. "Why not?"

"I'm a fertility doctor, Ben! I don't save lives!" She strode to the other side of the room and stared out the window. She didn't know why she felt so angry suddenly. Maybe it was that he knew perfectly well what she did and by asking her to do something for him, to fix him, he thrust responsibility for this upon her. But she didn't want it. She couldn't fix this.

Soft footfalls echoed behind her and she sensed him standing at her back. "I can't operate on you," Juliet repeated in a measured tone. "I'm not qualified. I'd kill you."

Ben didn't say anything to this, which she was grateful for. After a few minutes, she turned to face him. "I don't know what to do. I can't help you."

"Even if you wanted to," Ben said with a small smirk.

"Of course I want to," she snapped. "I...we'll have to find a way. Somehow."

For the first time, he became visibly ruffled. "How?" he demanded. "How are we going to find someone to take that --" he pointed back at the x-rays, "--out of my spine?"

"Ethan could --"

"Ethan's no more qualified than you," he interrupted, his voice softening again. Like all of Ben's rare outbursts of emotion, this one faded quickly. "If you can't operate, neither can he."

They stared at each other for a minute. For just that fleeting moment, Ben's composure had cracked, and that, more than the tumor, more than her inability to help, was what she found really disturbing. "I'm sorry," she finally said.

A strange look passed across his face and he took a step towards her. His hand twitched upwards slightly but settled back at his side. With a sigh, he tilted his head and said, "It's all right, Juliet. I..." He furrowed his brow and broke their shared gaze. "How long do I have?"

"I don't know. A few months, maybe. But I'm just guessing..."

He chuckled softly to himself. "Well. I suppose I'd better make my peace, in any case."

With that, Ben backed away from her and left the clinic, shutting the door behind him with a quiet click. Juliet didn't watch him walk away. He was insufferable, irritating, and impossible. And he was dying. She thought she'd been ready for Ben Linus to be out of her life. Now that was an inevitability, and she didn't know what to think. So the same thought kept running through her head. Ben was dying. Ben would be dead in a matter of months. He wasn't the only one who would need to come to peace with that.