Richard Alpert knew what would happen to the young boy in his arms as he placed him gently into the balmy water.

The boy would not be a boy anymore. He would become something else: something terrible...a monster, like the mysterious "Man In Black".

He could have said "no". He had already seen the future. Benjamin Linus would transform into a corruptive leader; he would become a killing machine. He had time-travelled before because the Island had let him. This was all up to him, and Jacob hadn't stopped him from doing whatever he wanted; he could have simply let the boy die.

But no: this was what the Island wanted. It wanted Benjamin Linus to survive; otherwise, he would already be dead. Richard Alpert, servent of Jacob and the island, had to do what the Island wanted: to save Benjamin Linus: but at an irretrievable cost.

Richard took Ben and carried him to the Temple, where he placed him in the healing waters: knowing that there was no turning back. From this point on, whatever happened to the boy would be out of his hands...but everything that happened would be because of this moment.

xxxxxxx

An hour later the young boy stirred. "Where am I?" asked Ben, fascinated by his surroundings and staring up at Richard, transfixed. "I'm not in pain anymore," he realized, staring down at himself, mystified. "How did you save me? What happened?" He was staring at Richard in amazement, waiting with incredible patience for the answer.

"You were shot," said Richard simply, watching his patient from nearby, where he was sitting on the Temple floor and making a healing liquor that he would soon give Ben drink (the drink was meant to ward off evil spirits from entering his body).

For a long time Ben remained curiously silent, staring up at the Temple ceiling. "It was a prisoner named Sayid," he said dully after a time, "I was helping him to escape."

Richard watched the boy with intense interest. He was showing no signs of distress; this was a good sign, for it meant he would survive. "Did you know that Sayid was not one of us; nor that he was from the Island?" he ventured eagerly. "Did you know he was originally on a plane that crashed here?" (He hoped that this information would distract the boy from realizing that he was not scared.)

"No...that doesn't make sense." Nine-year-old Ben spoke with the conviction of someone far beyond his years. "He would want to get off the island then. Why would he have shot me? I was trying to help him. I don't understand why he wanted to kill me." He lay silent then, frowning and trying to solve the unsolvable puzzle.

Watching the boy obsess over the mystery, Richard felt a twang of pity; he knew he had to let it be. There was simply no use in explaining time travel to a nine-year-old boy who had not seen as much as Richard Alpert had seen; it would only complicate things and put more power into his hands than before.

"Just be greatful that you are alive," was what he said in the end...and he was greatful that Ben seemed to appear satisfied by that response.

The shooting was not spoken of again.

xxxxxxxxx

Richard Alpert joined Benjamin Linus as they stared down at the two Dharma members Ben had just killed, after a brutal attack between the two groups had left several members dead on both sides.

It was one of many challenges Benjamin Linus had to face: killing the people of a group to whom he had once belonged.

"How do you feel?" Richard had asked him.

For a long time Benjamin had said nothing, then looked up at Richard with eyes blank, and unseeing. "I don't feel anything," he had replied, voice flat. "Why don't I feel anything?" he demanded quietly (surprising Richard with his vigor, making him pause and stare at the boy with amazement.)

"This is the cost of becoming one of us," Richard Alpert had explained, while setting a hand gently upon the boy's shoulder. "Don't worry...it will pass, with time."

He knew Ben couldn't understand and, quite possibly, he never would. (The Island's mysteries were carefully guarded and only revealed to those purest of heart.) So far Benjamin had passed the first intiation into their tribe with flying colors. The killing would be the first of many and, since Ben never felt any guilt regarding the murders, Richard Alpert was never regretful that he was mostly to blame.

xxxxxxx

One night Richard awoke with a start and, upon turning to observe Ben's space, discovered that the boy was missing.

He caught up with Ben a mile away from the camp, almost having reached the Pylons. "Ben!" he shouted (making the scrawny kid jump), "What in God's name do you think you're doing?"

Ben looked like a deer caught in the headlights; it was as startled as he ever saw the boy get. "You followed me?" he gawked up at Richard.

Richard knew that getting angry at Ben would have no emotional effect so he simply stood there an glared. "You disobeyed my orders, Benjamin," he declared sterly, placing his hands on his hips (as his father once had done). "You know never to leave the camp without permission. You are a minor. You are in my care." When Ben did not respond, he demanded, "Aren't you going to tell me where you were sneaking off to, in the dead of night?"

Much to Richard's amazement, Benjamin proceeded to lower his head at the ground with shame. "I was going to see Annie," he replied (voice so soft that Richard had to strain to hear it).

"Who's Annie?" Richard was puzzled; he'd thought Ben had been an only child, and Ben had never mentioned an "Annie".

"My...friend," Ben replied firmly (though hesitantly, which Richard found strange; Ben rarely ever seemed uncertain about his actions). "She was the first one I spoke to on the island."

Richard looked at him quizzically; Ben hadn't appeared to be the type to make friends. "You two were close?"

Ben shrugged listlessly, "Yeah, we were, and I never got to say goodbye."

"Well," said Richard, thinking carefully, "one day soon we'll ask you to, let's say, return to the Initiative...to pretend that you had returned as one of them...and then, you can see your friend Annie...how about that?"

"But why would I ever go back there?" Ben demaded incredulously, "my father doesn't want me and Annie will forget all about me...just like she almost did when I left the first time," he added (with an almost pensive softness that took Richard by surprise).

"She may not understand why you left," Richard told him, as he placed a warm arm around Ben's shoulders and guiding him slowly away from the enemy's territory, "but she will understand why you returned."

"I can't ever hurt Annie," Ben had insisted with a conviction that Richard hadn't expected.

"I'm not asking you to," was all that Richard replied.

xxxxxxxxx

A month later, despite Ben's protests, Richard had orderd him to return to the Barracks.

"I like it here," was Ben's retort: but Richard would hear none of it.

"You didn't do anything wrong, Ben," was the only explenation of the man who he now looked up to as a mentor; perhaps, more. "We need you as a spy."

Patiently, Richard waited while Ben took this in. "You want me to make them think I came back on my own?"

Richard smiled, surprised and pleased at how easily Ben understood his motives. "Exactly, Ben," he approved eagerly, "you will have a radio and report back to me when needed."

"But what about Annie?" Ben had asked-and Richard had sworn under his breath, because she was the nemesis (the one who distracted Ben constantly from the goal for the greater good). "I told you Richard-I'm not hurting her, or her parents...okay?" he'd added firmly, for extra emphasis (Richard had never heard a kid sound so serious).

"We'll stay far away from them," he said. "The children won't be hurt."

"And her parents? Horace and Olivia Goodspeed?" Ben insisted, "Horace tried to save my mother...and Olivia was my teacher-"

"None of that matters now," Richard intoned. Then, leaning in close to the boy, he set two hands on each of Ben's shoulders and said: "Remember who and what we are doing this for."

"For Jacob," was Ben's answer (and finally Richard could breathe) "and for us..." Ben smiled then, as though he'd been let it on a little secret (and Richard had to secretively agree, that he had). "Right?"

"That's right," Richard had beamed back at him, his heart swelling with pride for the boy (knowing that he would go far): "For us...and, most importantly: for Jacob."

xxxxxxxxx

"I'm very proud of you for what you did today," Richard told Ben on the now famous day of what would be known as "The Purge": in which he, Ben and the other members had let loose a poisonous gas that had killed every member of the Dharma Initiative. "It takes a whole lot of guts for someone to kill their own father."

"Well...he deserved it," Ben simply replied, seeming content to leave it at that (and Richard silently had to agree).

They were sitting at the top of the hill, overlooking the camp. It was a beautiful day; only a few clouds were scattered about the sky. The view that surrounded them never ceased to amaze Benjamin; he could still recall how reluctant he was to be on the Island the day he arrived. He'd been only eight, still awkward and unsure, living with a father who he knew hated his guts from the day he was born, because his mother had died shortly after giving birth. The rewards of living on the island however were far greater than what he had gained from life on the mainland, and he had come to love the island as his home.

"Did he ever apologize for being how he was?" Richard knew that Ben's father had been a poor excuse for a father...he'd been a neglectful, abusive drunk.

In response Ben had snorted loudly with what appeared to be a partial amusement enfused with embittered anger, "That man never apologized for anything once in his life. I doubt he would have ever realized the errors of his ways. He was a completely unsalvageable waste of space. I wasn't expecting an apology from him even if I tried. I knew I'd never get one. I gave him a chance for being honest by asking, "'Did you really blame me for killing her?'"

"Your mother?" Richard clarified.

"Yes," Ben acknowledged, sending his mentor a smile; seeming pleased that Richard had remembered the events of his past. "He never forgave me for being the cause of her death...he was simply too ignorant to realize that it wasn't my choice to be born."

Richard nodded with understanding. "What did he say to that?"

Much to his amazement, Ben didn't lose his smile as he said dryly, "If he did say anything in response, it didn't make any difference."

Richard nodded at that knowingly. "I wonder what the world would be like if being born was a choice," he mused, "and how many people would have accepted the offer."

"All I know is that I doubt that I would have taken it," Ben admitted sourly. Then, as an afterthought, he added quickly, "Though I wouldn't have done it to make my father happy."

"Makes sense to me," Richard agreed. "Seems like that would have been a better choice for you both."

"If only we could know what would happen in the future," Ben contemplated wistfully, staring out into space, "perhaps we would choose our paths more wisely."

After a long pause, Richard proposed, "Would you have done anything different, if you could?"

At this, Ben simply smiled knowingly (for Richard, Ben's smile had a magic all its own). Looking Richard in the eye, he replied, "I probably would have chosen you as my father."