This couldn't be happening…this couldn't be real.

Yet Benjamin Linus could still smell the fresh gunpowder lingering in the air, and there was Alex Rousseau's body lying still on the ground.

He wasn't in his house in the suburbs; he was on some remote tropical island, brought face to face with deranged killer who had just murdered one of his favorite students in front of his own eyes.

And yet he'd just stood there while it happened; hadn't reacted, begging the question: why hadn't he done something? Why hadn't he even tried to save Alex's life? And why did that man call Alex his daughter?

There was no time to try to answer unanswerable questions, for the man had disappeared before he could run after him, and all he wanted to do was to find the man who had done this and kill him-but he knew he wouldn't. He was a pacifist, for Chrissakes…he taught History for a living…but now all he could think about was getting revenge…because Alex Rousseau was dead. And even though that crazy man had pulled the trigger, somehow he knew it wasn't just because of the man, that he was the one to blame, and Alex Rousseau was dead because of him-

Dr. Linus woke with a start, finding himself drenched with sweat and terrified by the sound of his own rapid breathing; however at once relieved by the sight of familiar surroundings. Thank Goodness, he thought, it was only a dream.

That morning at school, when she said her usually bright and bushytailed "good morning" to him in the hall, he wanted to tell Alex about the dream but immediately thought better of it. As far as teacher and student relationships went, they had an unusually close bond and he didn't want to scare her away; the last thing he wanted was to disturb her as the dream had for him. He was touched by her thoughtfulness when, after class, she met him at the desk and asked if he was okay, saying she had noted the dark circles under his eyes; at seventeen, she was unusually compassionate for her age.

"I'm fine," he'd said, forcing a smile however useless, knowing that she'd probably see right through his act anyway, because Alex was like that-gifted in so many ways. He was certain she was one of the few students that seemed guaranteed to have a bright future, and he was determined to do anything it took to make sure that happened; he'd even given up trying to swindle a job as Principal just for her, because the Principal was the only one who could write a letter of recommendation so that she could get into a top-notch university.

"Are you sure?" Just as he'd predicted, Alex was doubtful, and like a father he loved her dearly for her deep concern for his well being; she was like no other student he'd ever had.

"Sure I'm sure," he'd replied, but once again, he knew he'd failed to convince her; she was too fast for him. "See you later at Club?" he added hopefully, when she continued to waver, frowning at him with a suspicion that made him nervous now more than grateful. "We're going create our own Declaration of Independence."

"Sounds good," Alex said-except she was still frowning. "See you later Dr. Linus."

It warmed his heart how she still called him "Dr", even after having him over for dinner that one time (God bless her mother for that). He'd been surprised when her mother had invited him back a second time, leading to a ritual of at least one night a week where they got take out food like Chinese or pizza or had fun home-made meals like Goulash which they all made together. It was strange seeing her again in the halls and in class the next day-but he was grateful for their company, because caring for a sickly father was a heavy burden to bear on his own.

Much to his surprise (and not beyond Alex's knowledge) he was beginning to find himself attracted to Alex's mother, Danielle. He knew what he was doing (fraternizing with the student and their family) was highly against the school's policy, but he couldn't help but let himself be drawn into the fold. Danielle had once told him that she believed he was the closest thing Alex had to a father (her biological dad had abandoned the family when she was only two years old) and he had been moved beyond words, in fact to the point of tears…he had never had any children, having never found someone who cared about him long enough to settle down…always feeling like the outsider, the odd one looking in.

Alex had once confessed to him that she felt the same way. "Everyone thinks I'm a nerd," she'd said to him one day when they were in the library as he prepped her for a difficult test, as was the norm for them now; it was another one of their rituals that he'd come to adore. "I wish I didn't care what people thought…but I can't help it."

This had been one of the first times she'd talked about anything other than history, and it had touched him to the point where he'd been almost afraid to respond. "I know what you mean," he'd said, "people can be spiteful and cruel…especially when they know someone has something they don't."

Alex had looked up at him with shock, and he wasn't sure what to make of her reaction until she'd said, "What do I have that they don't? I don't have anything, Dr. Linus…just these books…and Mom…" He thought he heard her say "and you", but he pretended not to hear it.

"You've got a great mind, Alex," he'd said instead of thanking her. "Don't ever be afraid to use it."

"Were you ever made fun of for being different?" The question seemed to come out of nowhere and it surprised him, but for some reason he also didn't mind sharing his past with her, as this was the type of closeness they shared. It was a bond he held sacred and close to his heart and he didn't want to ignore her interest or let her down.

"I kept to myself mostly," he confessed, sifting aimlessly through the textbook as though he were looking for something in particular. "I tried to be invisible so that they would ignore me."

"Did they?" She sounded so innocent at that moment that it nearly broke his heart.

"Sometimes," he allowed, trying to block out the images of taunts and jeers in his memory, "other times they…didn't." He wondered if perhaps he'd said too much; it was hard to tell with Alex because he had begun to think of her no longer just as a student, but also a friend. He didn't want to break the code of conduct, but he couldn't help it; he cared for her too much…which only reminded him once more of her mother's kind words, that she looked up to him. Somehow, it felt strange being one to look up to; growing up, he was used to either blending in with the crowd or simply being invisible…at least Alex had a mother to protect her; his had died during his own birth, and sometimes his father still remained at a distance because the memory of that day was still so vivid and far too painful to forget.

"So when they teased you…" Alex seemed as embarrassed as he was now to be discussing this, but she was much braver than he was by far, and continued, "what did you do?"

He wasn't sure how to answer that. What did he do? He didn't do anything…just like he hadn't in the dream, when the man had held the gun to Alex's head, threatening them both with her life.

"Just be you, Alex," he'd said instead of answering. "Just be you."