Disclaimer: Sadly, Ben is not mine. Nor is anything else from "Lost."


The jungle was quiet. Still. Humid -- but he didn't think it would rain. That was fine. He was exhausted, battered, sore, and in no mood to slog through wet underbrush in the pitch blackness of night. Tramping through the forest in that blackness was enough. In his haste to escape from that damn station he'd scratched his arms on branches, and that was in broad daylight. The scratches bled at first, more than he thought they should (or maybe he was just tired of bleeding), but now dried blood had crusted over them and they were stinging like hell. But haste had been necessary, because they would come after him; he knew it wouldn't be long and he had to be well concealed when that happened. He could hide and hide well. And if ever a situation called for it, it was the one he was presently in. Because he knew if they found him, they'd kill him. There would be no questions, no silly good cop - bad cop games to wheedle something out of him. No, if he was lucky, it would be a gun to his head and his brains splattered on the surrounding trees. If he was unlucky...well, he'd hope that having his fingers torn off one by one with a pair of pliers was the farthest things would go.

Ben Linus doubted it. Three gunshots and two women lying in dark, spreading stains -- quite dead, he thought -- was a recipe for revenge if he'd ever seen one. The man who'd let him out was slumped on the floor, cradling his arm that he'd just put a bullet in. "You make sure --" he'd spat, "-- you make damn sure that I get my son back."

"Is that what they promised you?" Ben had returned coolly, picking up the discarded gun and stowing it in the waist of his pants. "I wondered what could make a man kill two of his friends."

The man's face had twisted in rage and he'd made a grab for Ben, but he skittered out of reach and out of the Swan station.

He would, of course, be blamed for those murders. So it had been absolutely imperative that he hide well and quickly. There was a rock he'd found, overgrown with vines. Underneath was a space, big enough for a small man to cram himself into and avoid being seen. So that was what he did.

For hours -- five or six, at least -- he crouched, unmoving, under that rock. There was no need to worry about them finding a trail. There was none. But at one point, two people went crashing through the jungle nearby and he felt a faint twinge of fear that they might stumble upon him accidentally. It didn't happen and night fell.

When he judged it safe, Ben crawled from his hiding spot, wincing silently as his stiff limbs unfolded and pulled open scabs. What was a little more blood, though? He sat on the damp earth for a moment to let his legs grow accustomed to being allowed their full capacity for movement and to allow the soreness in his body die down. As he sat there in the dark, the clouds overhead broke, exposing a silver bright moon. Its light threw the jungle into ghostly relief and Ben smiled grimly to himself. There had been too many occasions in the past week -- good god, but it had seemed longer -- when he had been sure that he was dead. He'd never had so many guns pointed at him in his life. And the beating...well, he'd thought it could happen. He'd hoped, while his face was being pounded in by the heel of a boot, that it would make them more apt to believe his story, but no such luck.

Ben exhaled slowly and shut his eyes. He would not waste his anger on these people.

Opening his eyes after a moment, Ben watched as black clouds covered the moon again and cloaked the jungle in darkness. Good time to start walking. It would be easier to stay out of sight if anyone else was still away from their camp.

He stretched carefully, weary of being in pain constantly, and got to his feet. Momentarily, he stood very still, getting his bearings, before setting off west towards the beach. He had to move cautiously through the trees and undergrowth because of the dark. It was a small price to pay for his freedom. Strange, but he'd never felt so gratified to be in the pitch-black, constantly dripping jungle. But after eight days of captivity it was wonderful to be able to take his time to traverse it.

Eventually, the slither of waves on sand reached his ears and he came to the edge of the forest. He surveyed the beach in front of him from the shadows and his eyes stopped on a small boat beached a couple hundred feet down the shore. Deeming it safe, he stepped out from under the trees and trudged across the sand to the craft.

When he got within fifty feet of it, there was a sudden flash of movement inside and a blond woman jumped out into the crashing surf. For a split second, Ben forgot about the cuts on his lip and he allowed his face to split into a wide smile. The cuts immediately opened and he tasted blood. Damn.

The woman reached him quickly and he tempered his smile just a little; enough to say, "Hello, Juliet."

"Ben." Her face was horrified. "What -- how did -- why didn't you say you were like this?"

"I'm fine," he said dismissively.

"My god, did they beat you?"

He shrugged and repeated, "Like I said, I'm fine."

Juliet's expression gradually changed from horrified to merely shocked. "You should have told us; there's nothing for this on the boat." She glanced over her shoulder at it. "Speaking of which, let's go. You need rest."

With an obliging nod, he continued towards the boat. When they'd clambered up, Juliet went to start the motor, but Ben stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, Julie, I didn't expect you to meet me."

She turned around, her brow creased. "I volunteered," she said, in a tone that suggested it was an effort to admit it.

Ben stared at her, his mouth twitching slightly into a smile. "Don't tell me you were worried about me."

Briefly, he thought she might ignore the comment and just get the boat underway. Instead, she took a couple steps toward him and hesitantly lifted a hand. Very gently, she touched his bruised cheek. "Yes, Ben," she replied softly. "As surprising as it might be, I was worried."

And that, perhaps, was the greatest -- and yes, surprising -- thing to come of his newfound freedom. As she fussed over him a bit more, he said idly, "I'm touched." It was true. Ben hadn't uttered many true statements recently, and he knew she wouldn't believe him -- hell, he'd said it in such a way that she wouldn't -- but it felt good to have those words be the first real ones out of his mouth.

When he said them, Juliet was looking at the dressings on his arrow wound, but something -- the tone, the fact that they'd come from him at all, maybe -- made her glance sharply up at him. For a moment, he held her gaze. And then, suddenly, shockingly, she kissed him hard on the mouth.

It hurt. But he didn't care. It was worth it.