Author's Note: I am endlessly fascinated by the razor-sharp intelligence of Ben Linus' brain, the way he controls everything from positions of the greatest weakness. I wanted to examine how he could play Henry Gale so brilliantly.

The Net

So, he didn't mean to get caught in a net. The plan had been, walk across the Island and come in as bedraggled as possible to the plane crash survivors' camp with his tale of ballooning and wife dying and the odd pain in his back. They were unlikely to suspect him. He was small and could look very, very meek, if necessary. True, they had killed both Ethan and Goodwin, but he was better at this than either of them. All he needed to do was evaluate whether he could easily earn Shephard's trust or would need to have him kidnapped and decide on the best way to do so without bringing the survivors down on their heads.

And then, like a fool, he'd stepped into a trap. You would think that after sixteen years, he'd know how to avoid all of Rousseau's traps. But the French woman, while insane, was unendingly creative and clever. He should know. He saw the same thing in Alex.

Well, either he could get out of this himself, or he could use it to his advantage in an unplanned manner. He could get out of it. He hid quite a bit of strength and agility in his small, not-so-slim-anymore body. Though he lived in a nice little yellow house like anyone back in the Real World, he lived on an Island with people who had once been called Hostiles, who had taken out American Marines, who had waged successful war against the invading Dharma Initiative (thanks to him, their man on the inside), and who held regular combat training. More, he led them. There were very few of his people who could best him in a fight he intended to win, though it was more because of his brain than because of his body. Richard was one of them, but he had come very close to beating him in their last bout. Goodwin had also been one of them. It was only one of several reasons why Goodwin was now dead.

Needless to say, he would have no problem getting out of a net. But being in a net could be very, very useful. If there was one thing he could thank his father for, it would be for teaching him how to turn a bad situation to his advantage. There had come a time when he'd stopped thinking like a victim in the middle of one of his father's beatings and started thinking of ways that a beating could be an asset. He'd learned to control them rather than letting them control him. He'd learned that his brain was more powerful than his father's fists. That was the day he'd stopped being afraid of pain.

The question was whether staying in the net would be more advantageous than walking into the survivors' camp on his own. He decided to wait and see. Every once in a while he liked to let a situation play out and see where it led. The Island had ways of bringing situations to the right point, and he always knew what to do with them then. He and the Island had a special relationship.

It was only moments later that the tall brown-haired woman stepped out of the underbrush silently and gazed up at him. He lolled in the net, pretending to be unconscious. He had never seen this woman in sixteen years, though she had plagued his life every one of them. It was impossible that she should recognize him as the shadowy figure who had stepped into her camp and taken—rescued, he told himself—her child. Goodness only knew what she would think of him in her crazed, cunning brain. He had not, however, walked across the Island to investigate Rousseau. He might have to kill her. Really, he should have killed her that night. It would have saved a lot of trouble over the last sixteen years. But he'd been sentimental then. If he could go back in time and have a talk with his younger self, he would probably strike him across the face for his stupidity.

Rousseau stared up at him for longer than was necessary and then turned and walked away. Now was the time to escape, if he was going to, inch his way up the net to the top and push out between the vines connecting it to the tree, but he didn't. Wait and see, the Island told him. Probably it wasn't the Island but only his own well-honed instincts, but the Island had given him those.

And cancer, something in the back of his head whispered.

And a spinal surgeon, he countered.

He waited, spinning plans like nets of his own. The net was very uncomfortable, but discomfort was incidental. He had a plan to deal with Rousseau, a plan to deal with whatever or whomever she came back with. He had any number of variations on Henry Gale to play, depending on the circumstances.

He wouldn't play the Henry Gale they found on the beach. He'd been a tall, handsome, strong, Black man, not a short, soft-looking, odd-looking, pasty-despite-Island-life man. If the physicality was wrong, you couldn't play the part. He'd invented a Henry Gale who suited him, right down to the self-deprecating quips about his job. The Henry Gale on the beach would have made you want to hear about his job. His Henry Gale would be just slightly pathetic. He liked playing pathetic roles. It was so amusing.

The sun had set long ago, and he had actually gone to sleep when something hit him hard between the shoulder blades. He gave a cry of pain and outrage and tried to struggle into a better position. Rousseau was on the ground, throwing rocks at him.

"Stop! Stop! Who are you! Let me out!"

"Tell me who you are."

"I'm nobody! I'm just a balloonist! I crashed here!"

Another rock. "Tell me who you are."

"Henry Gale! That's my name! Why are you throwing rocks at me! Who are you?"

"Like you don't know. Tell me who you are."

"I told you! Who do you think I am?"

"One of Them."

"One of who? Please don't hurt me!"

This went on for an unnecessarily absurd amount of time. He could keep it up all night, but it was rather tiresome. He had no intention of dealing with Rousseau any more than he absolutely had to. Of course she thought he was one of Them. She thought everyone was. Of course, until the plane had crashed, everyone was.

Eventually Rousseau gave up and left. If she came back and cut him down to take him back to her camp, he would kill her. If she didn't, he would get out and continue on his way. Meanwhile, his back ached, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he had a tumor on his spine. He went back to sleep. He knew how to sleep when necessary.

When light came, he woke and remained alert, sitting quietly in his net and listening. If Rousseau had wanted to question him longer, she would have. He had come to the conclusion that if she was coming back, it wouldn't be alone.

She had learned to move nearly as quietly through the jungle as his people, but the survivors certainly hadn't, and he heard them coming long before they came into view. The man was talking incessantly; he had a soft, accented voice that the listener in the net was able to place instantly from his knowledge of the survivors. Arabic. Sayid Jarrah, the Iraqi torturer. One of the last people among the survivors he would have wished for to find him, but he was just as exploitable as the rest. He instantly set up a despairing shouting and wailing and watched the dark man burst through the brush toward him.

They were so desperate, these survivors. Desperate to help, to protect, to hear news from the Real World, to escape. They had no idea that everything they wanted was so small.

Jarrah was being quite the hero. He rushed into the clearing, ignoring Rousseau's repeated, "Wait! Sayid, listen to me. Don't believe a word he says. He's one of Them!"

He shouted frantically, "I have no idea what she's talking about. She's crazy!"

"How long has he been up there?" Jarrah asked in his soft voice.

"Since last night! Please, just cut me down. My name is Henry Gale. I'm from Minnesota!" Jarrah stared up at him. "Please!"

"He's lying," Rousseau said.

Jarrah ignored her, taking out a rather excessively large knife. "I'm going to cut him down."


"Thank you!" he said fervently.

"You're making a serious mistake!"

Jarrah cut the rope connecting the net to the branch above, and it fell heavily to the ground. Winded, he struggled to rise and tripped in the entangling vines and ropes. Jarrah hurried to him. "It's OK! It's OK. You're alright. Hold on. Take it easy."

There were some things you couldn't learn from a file. One was that an Iraqi torturer would be eager to help a little man untangle himself from a net a crazy French woman had trapped him in.

As he raised himself up from the ground, he saw Rousseau calmly fitting a very large arrow to a very unexpected crossbow. Inwardly he sighed. Now he knew what was coming as if he were precognitive. As the feckless little Henry Gale he was setting himself up as, he would run away from her. She would shoot him, but not fatally, because she wanted him to talk and convince Jarrah about his essential evilness, and the only person who could patch him up would be Shephard, the very man he was here to meet. Once again the Island had set him up perfectly, but did it really require that he get shot for it?

"Oh no," he said in a panicked voice and raised himself off the ground and launched himself across the clearing. When the arrow plunged through his right shoulder, propelled him forward, and smashed him into the leaf-shrouded ground, he had been expecting it so intensely it was like an afterthought, or a déjà vu of something that had already happened. That was the advantage of foresight.

For just a moment, as he lay on his face in the leaves, his mind was swamped by sheer agony. Only for a moment. He gave himself that latitude. Then the voices gave him something to hold on to.

"You could have killed him."

"If I wanted to kill him, I would have killed him."

"You shot this man with no provocation!"

"He is one of Them! Tie him up. You should take him to your doctor. He's no good to you dead."

Jarrah's hands wrapping a rope or vine or something around his wrists were gentle, but he might as well have been yanking his arms violently, because the pain threatened to take him over again.

"And then what?"

"You talk to him, Sayid. If I recall, that is what you do? But know this: he will lie. For a long time, he will lie."

No, getting caught by Rousseau had not been the best idea. It would work, of course. He would be put into a position to really observe what was going on with the survivors, analyze the leaders, and find out the sort of man Shephard was. Arousing Jarrah's suspicions, though, had not been part of the plan. This could all only get much, much worse. He would be prepared for that.

That was his last conscious thought, as Jarrah lifted him and slung him over his shoulder and the world died around him.