Disclaimer: I do not own Lost. If I did, I would officially declare 'The Other Woman' as non-canon.
A/N: Just for the record, I really didn't like 'The Other Woman' or what they did to Ben's character in that episode and I sincerely hope nothing like this actually happens on the show, but once the idea reared its dark and disturbing head, it refused to go away. The nicer, saner part of me denies all responsibility.
"Then what did you say to her?"
"I told her she was mine," he said.
"And how did she react to that?"
"How do you think she reacted, Harper?" Ben fixed the therapist with a disdainful glare, making Harper squirm uneasily in her chair, tapping the end of her pen nervously against the notepad resting on her lap. The page was still blank. She rarely wrote anything down during these sessions. Intuition told her that Ben would not approve of written evidence of what he revealed to her and she was very, very afraid of him. If anyone else had come to her to talk about the woman who had been sleeping with Harper's husband, the woman who, through her own recklessness, had indirectly caused his death, she would have slammed the door in their face. With Ben, she didn't dare argue.
"Did she stay with him?", she said, her voice almost cracking. "I mean, with his body?"
"This is my time, Harper, not yours," he snapped. "I thought you people were supposed to learn detachment."
She guessed that he gained some small degree of satisfaction in tormenting her like this. It was nothing personal, she knew. It was about power, and Ben had just surrendered a great deal of his by letting his emotions show in front of Juliet. Juliet. He knew very well it would be impossible for her to detach when she felt such pure hatred for the woman. Harper had not even been allowed to see Goodwin's body yet; immediately after Ben and Juliet had returned, he had demanded an appointment with her. She had been too frightened to protest. She knew she could not afford to betray her own emotions in front of Ben again and willed herself to calm down, slowing her breathing, fighting back the tears and regaining her composure. "How did it make you feel?", she said finally. "When you told her she was yours?"
"Scared," he said simply. Harper was a little taken aback. She had never expected to hear Benjamin Linus admit so openly to feeling fear.
"Why scared?", she asked.
"Because right then, in that moment, I wasn't even talking to Juliet."
"Who were you talking to?"
"I assume you can work that out for yourself."
Of course she could. It wasn't difficult to fit the pieces together. He had shown her photographs of Annie once. She remembered the remark she had made about how beautiful she was. Now, she could not recall that face without thinking of Juliet. "She wasn't the only fertility specialist you could have brought here, was she? You chose Juliet because she looked like her."
"Blonde, of course, but otherwise..."
Harper leaned forward, studying him. He had turned away from her, his eyes fixed on the small sand garden on the table. She had never seen him touch it. "Do you love Juliet?," she asked.
"I don't know," he answered.
"But you want her?"
"You don't want anyone else to have her?"
"You made sure your rival died because you wanted her to yourself."
This made him lift his head and look at her again. "Yes. And your use of 'your rival' as opposed to 'my husband' hasn't gone unnoticed, Harper. See, you can be detached after all."
"This is your time, Ben, not mine," she said, and wished she hadn't when she saw the dangerous look that crossed his face. She changed the subject, quickly. "We haven't spoken much about Annie. All I know is that she was your best friend when you were children, that you were in love with her as an adult and that she died. You never told me how that happened."
"Do you really want to know?", he said.
"Because you think it will help me, or because you're just curious?"
"And don't lie."
She dropped her gaze, tapping her pen on the notepad again. "A little of both, I guess."
"It's not a pleasant story."
"I can handle unpleasant. I've probably heard worse."
He gave a short, mirthless laugh. "I doubt it."
She leaned back into the chair, crossing her legs, pen poised, intrigued yet also afraid of what he might tell her. "Try me," she said.
They had often eaten together, but not like this. There had been shared lunches in the canteen and picnics up on the Mesa, but he had never gone to this amount of trouble before. He already knew she liked his cooking - she had said so herself - and this time he had spent hours ensuring that the ingredients were correctly measured out, that the timing was perfect. He had even lit candles and borrowed a recording of Madama Butterfly, which was playing quietly in the background.
She was a few minutes late and her arrival clashed with the oven timer going off, ruining his chance to greet her properly. He had wanted to hold the door open for her, usher her inside with a smile, maybe even risk a kiss on the cheek. Instead, he had yanked open the door and immediately had to run back to the kitchen to take the ham out of the oven. The last thing he had wanted was for her to see him wearing oven gloves. His knowledge of such things was limited, but he knew that oven gloves were definitely not romantic.
As he brought the plate of ham to the table, he noticed that she was staring at him a little warily. "What's wrong?", he asked, quickly and self-consciously removing the oven gloves and discarding them on the counter.
"Nothing," she answered, "I just... I thought there would be more people coming."
"Just you and me," he said, with a smile that he hoped she would interpret as charming. "Didn't I make that clear to you?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "My mistake."
She sat down at the table. He had wanted to pull out her chair for her, but he was too late. He sat down opposite her and poured her a glass of wine. "You look lovely," he told her, immediately wishing he had said 'beautiful' instead.
"Thankyou," she replied, looking a little taken aback, but still smiling, as she unfolded her napkin and placed it on her lap. "And thankyou for all this. You've gone to so much trouble, Ben..."
"Nothing's too much trouble, Annie. I know you've been unhappy lately. I wanted to make you feel better."
"You do," she said. "Just knowing you're here, that I can talk to you, makes me feel better. It always has."
His hands almost shook as he served her dinner. They had been close friends for years, always comfortable in each other's company, but tonight, things were different. He watched her as she took her first bite. "Delicious," she said, "as always. But you've put me in a very awkward position."
"How so?", he asked, worried about what she might mean.
"Because now I feel like I have to cook you dinner to say thankyou for this dinner and you know as well as I do that I can barely boil an egg."
"That's really not necessary," he said, more than a little relieved.
They ate in silence for a few moments, Ben stealing glances at her between mouthfuls, hoping she wouldn't notice the way he gazed at her eyes, her lips and her hair, softly lit by the row of candles next to the table. He knew he ought to say something. "How are you feeling?", he asked her.
"I'm... I'm OK," she answered unconvincingly. "A little frightened though. Everyone is. This has never happened before. The Hostiles have never gone this far."
"It's all right, Annie. You're safe," he said reassuringly. "Listen, there's something I wanted to-"
"What about you?"
She set her cutlery down and looked at him intently. "No one ever asks you how you're feeling. People forget, you were there too."
He wanted to change the subject. He desperately wanted to talk about something else, but he knew it would be inappropriate. He knew what was expected of him. "I still think about it," he said, doing his best to sound upset. "Every day. Thinking... I could have done something different..." Ben was so adept at lying, at playing a part, that occasionally he surprised even himself.
She reached across the table and placed her hand over his. Even this innocent, platonic gesture was enough to send a shiver of excitement down his spine. "No one blames you, Ben. No one," she said gently. "There was nothing you could have done."
Everyone in the barracks had bought his story so easily. The Hostiles had attacked them on their way to make a delivery to the Swan; Paul had been killed and Ben had barely escaped with his life. No one had questioned him. No one would ever know the truth. The two of them had been completely alone in the jungle. No one saw Ben pick up the rock when Paul's back was turned, no one saw him slam it hard into the back of his head. No one saw Paul stagger and fall to the ground, his head streaming with blood. No one saw Ben deliver three more blows with the rock, just to make sure. No one heard the cries for help. No one saw Ben dirty and rip his own clothes, or bruise his own face, before lifting Paul's limp body onto his shoulders and carrying him back home. No one saw a thing.
Most of the time, people didn't notice Ben at all. Annie certainly never had, when he had looked in through her window night after night, watching her sleep. Until she no longer slept alone. She had not noticed when he had followed her and Paul to the Mesa or the beach and spied on them together – talking, laughing, making love - growing ever more angry, his thoughts clouded with jealousy and plans for revenge. Annie was his. She had always been his. He hadn't wanted things to play out the way they did. He considered his chosen method of killing Paul undignified and somewhat beneath him, but it was a necessary evil. Ben's patience only stretched so far.
He realised that he had said nothing for some time. Annie looked concerned, her hand still resting on his. "Ben, please say something."
He looked up and met her gaze, perfectly composed. "Ready for dessert?", he asked.
She blinked, took her hand away and opened her mouth to speak, but Ben did not allow her the chance. He stood quickly and marched back into the kitchen. Things were not going well. He needed to take her mind off Paul, urgently. "It's tiramisu", he called over his shoulder as he took the dessert from the refrigerator. I know it's your favourite."
He turned around, dish in hand, to find that she was standing inches away from him, looking very worried. "Ben, are you sure you're all right?", she asked.
"I'm fine," he answered with a stiff smile, inwardly annoyed that she was refusing to let this go. Even in death, Paul was ruining everything for him.
She took the dish from his hands and set it down on the counter, then closed the distance between them and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I can't imagine what you're going through," she said softly, "but we need to help each other through this. You can talk to me."
She was so close to him now that he could barely concentrate on what she was saying. This was not how he had planned it, but he knew it had to be now and he knew he couldn't be timid. In one swift, fluid gesture, he cupped her face in his hand, drew her towards him and kissed her. For a second – one, blissful second – she sank into his kiss, allowing him to taste her, to feel the heat of her mouth on his. Then she broke away, recoiling backwards, her hand flying to her lips.
"Annie...," he began, unsure how to continue. He was not going to apologise, not for this, not now.
She stared at him in disbelief for a moment, her eyes wide with shock, then seemed to make a decision. "You're upset," she said. "We both are. It was just... I know you didn't mean it. It's OK."
He knew he should probably play along, agree with her, laugh it off as a rash mistake, but that would be the coward's way out. "No, I did mean it."
"I meant it, Annie," he said, stepping towards her.
"Ben, you and I, we're friends – you're my best friend - but..."
"I don't want friendship, Annie. It's not enough. I want all of you. I love you. How can you not know? How can you not have noticed?"
She looked away from him, staring at the table. "So all of this, the dinner, the candles... I didn't know. I swear I didn't know you felt this way..."
"Well you know now. You feel it too, Annie, I know you do."
"Ben, Paul has only been dead for three weeks. You can't do something like this, not now. It's wrong."
She was lying to herself. She had to be. She knew it wasn't wrong. Just for a second, Ben told himself, it had been perfect. She had kissed him back. They had shared something, however brief, and he would not let her deny it. She had kissed him back.
"How can you say that?", he asked her. "How can you stand there and say it's wrong?"
"You felt something too, Annie. I know you did. Don't lie to me."
She stared at him, for what felt like an impossibly long time. Please, Annie, he willed her silently. Please just give in. You have to. I need you to.
But she did not. Instead, she turned away, mumbled something which might have been 'I'm sorry', then ran outside, the door slamming shut behind her. Ben considered running after her, but he could not bear the thought of suffering a second rejection in public. He sank down into one of the chairs and downed the last of his wine. He had failed.
A minute or two passed before an urgent knocking at the door startled him out of his thoughts. He considered ignoring it - he was in no mood for visitors now – but the knocking started again. He sighed and went to answer the door. Annie was standing outside. She looked as if she had been crying.
"Annie?", he whispered, hardly daring to move in case she ran away again.
She said nothing. Instead, she stepped inside, brought her hands up to his face, then kissed him full on the mouth, so intensely he thought his heart might stop.
"Repetition. All repetition. You cooked the same meal for Juliet. You played the same music. You were trying to recreate that evening."
Harper had read a little about this kind of repetitive, ritualistic behaviour. She had examined case studies at university which she had found deeply chilling. A number of them had been rapists. Some had been serial killers. "But Juliet didn't play the part you wanted her to, did she?"
"Did you try to kiss her too?"
"No," he said, somewhat bitterly. "The opportunity never presented itself."
"Have you ever tried since?"
Harper wanted to remark that if Ben really wanted Juliet, he should get married; that was her type, after all. "What happened next?," she said instead.
He leant back on the couch, resting his head against the wall and sighing deeply. "Everything I wanted to happen."
"You began a relationship."
"You know, I really dislike that word. 'Relationship'. It's so very clinical. We were in love, Harper."
"I meant, were you... uh... Was the love consummated?"
She was a little unsure how to respond. "Ah."
"Don't think I'm unaware of the rumours, Harper. That I'm still a virgin."
"I hadn't heard any..."
"I warned you not to lie," he said.
He remembered the first time she had screamed his name. She had dug her nails into his back as her entire body shuddered beneath him. It was as if the sound had been snatched from her lips involuntarily; she had blushed afterwards and looked away. It had been enough to convince him that Paul had never been able to provoke such a reaction in her.
She was usually so strong-willed, so sure of herself, that she had surprised Ben in her willingness to play the submissive in bed. He had been gentle in the beginning, knowing how vulnerable she was after the death of her last lover. Now, almost a year later, he took enormous delight in having her surrender completely to him. He had learned how to tease her, to deny her pleasure for long enough so that she would beg to have him inside her. He was always tender and never cruel, but he liked to make it clear she was at his mercy.
He was kissing her neck, the weight of his body pinning her to the bed, one hand on the inside of her thigh moving slowly upwards. There were tiny beads of sweat on her forehead and her breathing was becoming shallower and more ragged with every caress.
He brought his face close to hers; she lifted up her head to kiss him but his other hand restrained her, holding her down by her hair. "Tell me you love me," he said.
"I love you," she answered, her eyes staring deeply into his own, her arms twining about his neck.
"Tell me you'll never leave me."
"You know I won't."
She swallowed hard as his fingertips began to gently explore her entrance. "I will never leave you."
Their faces were so close now that his lips grazed hers as he spoke. "Tell me you're mine."
"I'm yours," she whispered.
"Please Ben," she gasped, her eyes pleading.
"I'm yours. All of me, I'm yours."
His lips descended on hers and she moaned softly into his mouth as he finally entered her. Ben wished he could preserve that sound, her scent, the feel of her fingers on his skin and everything about this moment of absolute perfection. She was his. She always would be.
"Getting too much for you, Harper?"
She realised how tense she was, how tightly she was gripping the pen in her hand. "Sex is all about control for you," she said, "isn't it?"
"Everything I do is about control. You hadn't noticed?"
"But you need it to become aroused. You need to call the shots. You need her powerless. She has to follow a... a script, a plan..."
"You don't think I really loved her, do you?"
She took a deep breath before she spoke. "I think... obsession can sometimes... feel like love..."
"It was love."
She sensed he would not respond well to argument, but she found she could not stop herself. She was afraid of him, certainly, but she was more afraid about what may have happened to the young woman in his story. "Ben, wanting to possess someone is not love."
"No, it's not," he said. "But you can feel both at the same time."
"To love someone, you have to respect them."
"You think I didn't respect her?" He looked angry now, personally insulted. "She was happy with me. I was doing what was best for her. I would have given her everything. I would have died for her. Anything she asked, I would have done it."
"Would you have let her go?" He paused, glaring at her so intensely she had to look away. "Ben, uh, we've been talking for some time now. Maybe we should take a break..."
"Oh, but we're just getting to the good part, Harper," he said coldly. "You want to hear how this all ends, don't you?"
She didn't have the nerve to argue with him again. "Sure," she said warily. "Of course."
He had been waiting for this day to arrive for years. At 4pm precisely, Ben's life would change for ever. As would Annie's. Finally, he would be able to give her everything she wanted. It had not been easy, keeping the plan secret from her these past years. Countless times he had wanted to blurt everything out, to share it with her, but he knew he couldn't risk it. She wouldn't understand why it had to happen. He assured himself that she would forgive him though, in the end. He would have more than enough time to explain everything afterwards, once he had got her to safety, once Dharma had been eliminated, once their new life had begun.
"Annie? Are you up yet?", he called to her from the kitchen. "I made breakfast."
No response. He made his way down the hall and peered round the bedroom door. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, already dressed in her work uniform. She did not look up.
"Annie? What's wrong?"
As he moved further into the room, he saw what she was holding. She was staring at his open journal and her hands was shaking.
"You killed him," she whispered.
It was as if something dropped suddenly in the pit of his stomach, something dull and heavy. Ben could not contain the anger he felt at this invasion of privacy. "You read my diary?!"
"I had to know," she said slowly, unevenly, still refusing to look at him. "There was always something... something about what you said happened that didn't seem right. Like you were hiding something. The way you talked about Paul, about me, there was just... I had to know."
Eventually, she lifted her head to meet his gaze. Her look was one of horror and disgust and Ben could hardly bear it.
"Annie, please don't look at me like that."
Suddenly she rose to her feet, flinging the diary across the room with force. "Oh God, Ben," she cried, frantically running her hands through her hair and breathing in panicked gasps. "You killed him! Why did you do it? Why?"
He moved towards her, a desperate look on his face. "Why? You're asking me why? I had to see the two of you together every day for months! Watching him touch you, kiss you, knowing what you let him do to you. And you're asking me why? How can you possibly not understand... that you're mine?"
She stared at him aghast. "Not any more," she said as she shook her head, her voice low and surprisingly steady.
"You don't get to decide that."
"I'm not your property, Ben. I'm not your possession!"
She was inching towards the door, tensed and ready to run. Ben grabbed her arm and pulled her sharply down onto the bed. She struggled as his grip tightened and recoiled as he brought his face close to hers. "You're mine, Annie. You always will be. And I'll always be yours, completely yours. That's how it has to be."
"You think I still want to be with you, now?"
"You love me," he said, reaching out his other hand to stroke her hair, to reassure her.
She didn't mean it. He knew she didn't mean it. "I know you love me," he insisted, tightening his hold on her hair, hurting her, making her cry out in pain. "Don't lie to me."
"Ben. How can I love you, after this?", she said, tears forming in her eyes. "You terrify me."
He drew her close, wrapping his arms around her and feeling her tremble violently at his touch. Was she really frightened of him, after all he had done for her? "Annie, you can't leave me," he whispered into her ear. "This isn't what you want."
She pushed away from him forcefully and got to her feet. "Of course it's not what I want. I never imagined this. I thought I knew you..."
"You do," he told her, standing and reaching out to her again, his heart almost breaking when she flinched and backed away. The tears were running freely down her cheeks now. He hated that he had made her cry.
"I loved you so much," she said, half-sobbing. "I would have done anything for you."
"Then stay with me. I'm begging you. Please." She has to stay, he told himself. It was part of his plan. She had to.
"How can I? Am I supposed to just forget about what you did?"
"It can't end like this," he muttered, almost under his breath, leaning on the dresser next to him for support. "It can't." He was supposed to give her everything. He would have money, limitless money and power and he would give her anything she asked for, everything she deserved, if only she would stay, if only she would stop flinching when he tried to touch her, if only she would stop looking at him like she hated him. She did love him. She had to. He just had to make her realise.
She was taking tiny steps towards the door again, trying to escape, wanting to run for help. Quickly, he pulled open the top drawer of the dresser and took out the revolver Richard had given him in case of emergency. He had never imagined he would actually have to use it. He raised his arm and aimed the gun in Annie's direction, his hand not entirely steady.
"Don't move any further," he commanded.
Her eyes widened in terror. "Oh God. Oh please, no. Ben, you wouldn't. Oh God..."
"Tell me you love me," he said. Everything would be all right, he reassured himself. He only wanted to scare her a little, to make her tell the truth. She loved him, he knew she loved him. All she had to do was say it and everything would be fine.
"Tell me you'll never leave me."
"Ben, let me go." He had never dreamed that he would ever have to threaten her. The look of fear on her face was killing him, but he had to know. He had to hear her say it.
"Tell me you're mine."
"Please don't do this," she pleaded, her voice little more than a whisper.
"Say you're mine." I'll give you everything, he thought, if you just say it. Please. This isn't how it's supposed to be. Don't make me do this, Annie, please. Please just tell me you're mine.
Her eyes, which had been fixed on the barrel of the gun pointed at her head, turned to meet his. She had stopped crying; the tears were drying in streaks down her cheeks. There was a moment of absolute stillness as they looked at each other, then she opened her mouth and took a long, deep breath. "No," she said.
The silencer meant that the shot hardly made a sound. She fell backwards onto the floor, her head slumped inelegantly to one side. There was blood on the wall, the door, the carpet. Ben set the gun down on the dresser and knelt down beside her. The bullet wound in her head was an abhorrence; something ugly and wrong marring her delicate features. He stroked her face gently, tilting her head and straightening her neck, then bent down and kissed her lips. Perhaps it was the best way, he told himself, closing her eyes with a sweep of his hand. She could never have loved him again. The damage was irreparable; no matter how much he longed to make everything all right, she would never have understood. It was clear she would have had to die that day, one way or the other. Better she die here, now, instantly, than be subjected to the same fate as the rest of them. Better she die at the hands of someone who loves her, than alone, gasping for breath, with no one to close her eyes, no one to kiss her goodbye.
Ben stood slowly, a little shaky on his feet. He picked up the clock from the dresser – a gift from Annie's mother – opened it up, stopped the hands with his fingertips, then set it back down again. He surveyed Annie's body for the last time, a painful tightening in his chest which, he reasoned, could only be his heart breaking, growing stronger the more he looked at her. Finally, he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.
He showered and dressed as normal, though he had lost his appetite for breakfast. Before he left, he picked up the doll lying on the dining table and slipped it into his bag, double-checking that he had already packed the gas mask and canister. She had made that doll for him, for his birthday years ago. He would keep it with him, always, ensuring that at least one small part of her would forever be his.
"Didn't see that coming, did you?"
"I... I h-had an idea," said Harper, her worst fears confirmed. Ben Linus, her employer, her leader, the man who held the fates of everyone on the island in his hands, was clearly clinically insane. "Did you bury her? Is there a grave here somewhere?"
"Oh, she's with the rest of them." Harper did her best to hide her disgust; the thought of Ben callously throwing the body of the woman he claimed to love into that ditch, unmourned, undignified, revolted her more than anything.
"So, doctor," he asked her, "what do you think I should do?"
"I'm not exactly an expert in... this type of case...", she explained apologetically.
"Your best educated guess, then."
She took a deep breath. "You need distance. You brought Juliet to the island because you thought you could erase the past, make amends, have things play out the way you wanted them to. You don't want Juliet, you want what she represents to you. You need to separate Juliet from the idea of Annie."
"Or I might do it again?", he said, raising an eyebrow and smirking slightly.
"Isn't that why you're scared?"
"You'd love that, wouldn't you, Harper? I bet deep down, you're just dying for me to punish her."
Ben leaned forward, his eyes boring into her. Every nerve in her body screamed for her to run, to get as far away from this man as possible. "You think I don't know you, Dr. Stanhope?", he said slowly, clearly savouring her obvious fear. "You think I can't get inside your head?"
She knew she should say something; try to calm him down, try to help him, do her job, but before she could think of what to say, he had risen and moved over to the door, his hand resting on the handle.
"You'll continue to bring me any notes you make in your sessions with Juliet," he said, his voice now devoid of emotion. "Write it all down. I want to know everything. And I needn't remind you that if you breathe a word to anyone about what I just told you, or if you raise the subject again with me, the consequences will be severe."
She could only nod in understanding.
"Good," he said, opening the door, his expression almost genial. "You can go see your husband now. Thankyou for your time."