see i could offer you my hand but i can't save you from inevitability
It's raining when Juliet steps out of the revolving door, and it's because she's opening her umbrella, juggling her purse and briefcase and cellphone, that she collides with another body. Her phone drops out of her hand into a puddle and she curses under her breath -- at least she thinks it's under her breath -- as she reaches down to fish it out of the water. The screen has gone blank. Great, she thinks, this is the third phone she's broken this year through water-logging. It's been her most conspicuous inability to adapt since she moved to Portland.
Before she can get to it, a hand scoops up the phone and offers it to her.
"Sorry," a man says contritely. "My fault; guess I should watch where I'm going."
Her hair, without the umbrella, is soaked now, and she has to brush it out of her eyes before she's able to look at him.
He's cocking his head at her as he proffers the phone, and she gets the distinct impression that in the last minute he's learned things about her that she hasn't been aware she's projecting. "Thanks," she says, "and don't worry about it. I'm a notorious klutz."
"I doubt that," he replies, and his eyes flick away from hers, as if in embarrassment. When he looks back to her, she notices his eyes are a startlingly pale blue behind his wire-rimmed glasses. "What do I owe you for the phone?"
"Oh." Juliet makes a face. "Please. You don't owe me anything. It was an accident. Which was my fault anyway, so --" She's rambling, and to a stranger on the street, no less, and if she isn't careful she's going to let everything about the very bad day she's just had come tumbling out. That's something she doesn't need. Water from the phone's innards seeps out into her pocket after she puts it there, and the uncomfortable blot of dampness creeps down her leg until it reaches that part of her slacks that's not covered by her jacket and already soaked through from the steady drizzle of gray rain.
Which reminds her, she has an umbrella. Quickly, she pushes it open. She wonders if she should try to offer the man some shelter from the rain. She wonders why neither of them has moved on from this chance meeting.
He doesn't move any closer, staying well outside the radius of belated dryness that the umbrella offers. Juliet appreciates it, though seeing a droplet of water inch down his face pricks her with a little guilt, as well as a stab of pity. Why doesn't he have an umbrella? A raincoat? But she's upset -- mad, actually; her sympathy for other human beings at this point limited -- and right now she's glad that maybe someone, even it it's just a random stranger, gets that. Even if it's only manifest in his refusal to close their physical proximity.
"Are you sure?" He gives her a little twitch of a smile, and she wonders if her earlier assessment of his embarrassment was off. "I walked into you."
"No, honestly, I've done this a couple times since I moved here. It's a bad habit. It's just, here -- well, you know. It's always raining. Puddles everywhere. Plenty of opportunity to destroy electronics." Too many words. She can tell she wants to talk with someone, and either her brain or her heart is telling her anyone will do. But there's something about this man that...doesn't trouble her, exactly, she doesn't think, but something in his stillness seems preternatural. Something in her is saying leave, but then there's nothing threatening about him -- she's taller than him, for one thing, and she can't decide if he's a tourist or a local. The way he tolerates the rain suggests the latter. Certainly he's put up with it longer than she ever would have. She hates the feeling of water dripping on her head.
"Where are you from?" he asks, and when she just looks at him, blankly surprised that he was even listening closely enough to catch that passing piece of information, he adds, "Sorry, it's just that you said you'd moved here --"
"Miami," she blurts out. Then, because it seemed sharp, she softens the interruption by adding, "Not exactly in Portland."
"No," he replies drolly. "It can take some getting used to here."
She gives him a hesitant smile. "I'm not sure if that was encouragement, but thanks." Shifting her hold on her umbrella, she thinks that she doesn't possess in her social repertoire the ability to leave a situation that's halfway between passersby greeting each other and a full-fledged conversation. Nothing has happened here; there's no platitude to use to bow out and none really needed, and yet she can't quite pull herself away.
His twitch of a smile makes a reappearance. "Any time."
And then for a long moment the rain falls and traffic hums along and they stare not quite at each other, but their eyes keep to a definite orbit around the other. Juliet wants to go but is held in place by a feeling that she can't describe and can't put her finger on. It's like a distant cousin to knowing you've seen someone, somewhere, sometime. But she knows she's never seen this man, because she knows that she won't and wouldn't forget the way his eyes take in every detail about whatever he's looking at, like he's tucking it away in his memory on the chance that it will come in handy in the future.
She clears her throat and shifts her feet. "I need to get going. And you're soaked, you should get inside."
He narrows his eyes slightly and takes her off-guard by suddenly asking, "Do I know you?"
His asking what's been floating at the back of her mind flusters her more than the question itself. "I don't -- no. We've never met." She squints at him. even though the rain doesn't present an obstruction to her vision. Dusk is falling early, the failing sunlight unable to filter through the piles of low clouds. "Have we?"
After a second, he shrugs. "I suppose not."
She gives him an uncertain smile and turns to go.
And then she stops, halted by that same force or feeling that won't let itself be put into words. "I'm Juliet," she says to his back as she whirls around. He stops and faces her again. If she had to guess, she'd say he's at least five years older than her. It's vaguely possible that this is someone Edmund could have known. Deep down, she knows he isn't, but the fiction offers comfort where she wasn't aware she needed any. "Juliet Burke," she adds.
He approaches her again, and this time, when he extends his hand, it's to shake hers. "Ben Linus," he says. The name strikes no chord, but nor does it banish the sensation up and down her spine that somehow this has happened before. Behind his round glasses and mild expression is a sharpness, a ragged edge that she recognises in herself. "Nice to meet you, Juliet," he says, something whirring behind his eyes.
"Yeah," she replies. "You too, Ben."
The failing light turns the world monochrome, lit only by shades of gray from the rain. She can't deny anymore that she feels drawn to him -- Ben -- though why, and what it really means to her, are hidden. Or maybe she just won't, or can't, acknowledge them. She cannot -- that is, she should not -- compare every man she meets to Edmund, but she does.
So now they've introduced themselves, despite the clear assumption on both their parts that they are ships passing in the night. Maybe it's fate for them to keep walking. Or maybe not.
"Hey," she says, "we should get coffee sometime." She feels defiant, though she doesn't know why.
Ben looks surprised, and pleased, and she wonders what in his life would provoke that reaction. "Let me buy?"
Juliet smiles. When was the last time she did anything like this? It makes her feel young, and maybe that's what makes her say, "We can go dutch."
For the first time, she draws a genuine laugh from him, and the sound of it tells her that it caught him unawares. "If you insist." He hesitates, clearly weighing options, and then he asks, "What about now?"
"Now?" she asks, and immediately regrets it, because he seems -- not shy, exactly, but easily discouraged, and that isn't what she meant to do.
He doesn't flinch, just asks with a smile that says he knows exactly what she's thinking, "Are you busy?" And he says it like he knows she isn't. Like he knows that all she has to go back to is an empty house. She wonders if that's all that's waiting for him, too.
She recognizes, finally, at least part of what's drawing her towards him. He's unsettling. He looks so terribly normal, but there's something...yes, there's something. Maybe she'll regret this later. She usually does.
Juliet cocks her head at him, mirroring him, and smiles faintly. "Let's go."
He returns the same faint smile and Juliet isn't sure if she likes Ben Linus. But she's certain that she couldn't walk away now if she tried.