Fic: Know How, one shot
title: Know How
summary: Ben Linus contemplates the lessons his father taught him.
word count: 1,144
Benjamin Linus knows how to take a beating.
He considers this, leaning against a tree with the bark rough against his back, the cotton shirt no longer comfortable but sticky with sweat and his own blood, twisted around his torso like a straitjacket. Narrowing his eyes, he watches Sawyer, then observes Jack, his expression not particularly wary, definitely not afraid, simply observant. Wondering when the next punch will strike is an idle pastime and he closes his eyes after a while, sinking down to the ground, letting the thick ropes hold his weight. As the crash survivors argue, he remembers.
"What the Hell do you think you're -- hey! Hey, I'm talking to you," shouts Roger, storming into the house and throwing his pack down onto the floor. Without bothering to remove his filthy boots, he stomps across the room, leaving mud in the shape of the boot sole on the carpet. He glares at his son, who startles. "What are you doing in my bedroom? I've told you before to stay away from my stuff!"
The scent of beer lingers as he draws nearer. He's been drinking on the job again. His morning Irish coffee has been generously supplemented with a six-pack on the road, a long draught of whiskey with his brown bag lunch while perched in the van overlooking the valley. All he wants, now that he is home, is a cold one and perhaps - though he would not admit it - a target for his anger. Impotent rage flares up inside him as he looks over the kid. Ben is young, barely thirteen, still scrawny, with the spooked air of a trapped rabbit.
"Look at you," Rogers starts, his lip twisting into a sneer. He strides across the room, flicks his son's chest and watches as Ben steps hastily backwards to catch his balance. Unlike Ben's teachers, Roger does not appreciate Ben's cleverness. When he looks into his son's eyes, which is rare, he does not see sensitivity or intelligence; what he sees, always, is Emily. He glares at the boy, miserable over what he has lost. "Sneaking around in here when I told you to keep out. What are you doing home, anyway? How come you're not in school?"
Ben shrugs as best he can with his hands behind his back. He gulps, blinking at the window behind Roger. Outside, it has grown dark. The hour is late, after dinner-time. He says nothing, not quite daring to point out the obvious.
Dangerous, Roger takes another step forward. His cheeks bloom red with fury and the alcohol liberally pouring through his system. "I asked you a question, Ben."
"School's over," comes the answer, barely audible.
It is a poor sport, picking on a child who will never fight back. Ben flinches and cowers. As Roger advances, he shrinks back against the wall in anticipation of a blow that never comes. His eyes do not meet his father's, nor does he shout or use his sharp-knuckled fists. Roger's shoulders sink. He thinks about the beer chilling in the fridge and the bottle of stolen gin in his satchel. His tired body aches for the comfort of the couch.
"Ah, Hell," he speaks after a moment, giving up. Waving one hand in dismissal, he shakes his head. "I haven't got time to deal with this. Why don't you run along, kid? Go find one of your little friends." They both know that, aside from Annie, shy, bookish Ben has few friends. "Go on."
Ben breathes a bit easier, his fingers hot and sticky against the glass of the frame he clutches. He nods, cautiously, but relaxes as Roger moves out of the bedroom.
"Oh, and Ben," Roger starts, intending to tell his son to wash the dishes, but his sentence is cut off by the sudden loud crash as the picture frame slips from Ben's slick grasp, falling to the floor and breaking.
Father and son stand for a moment in mute silence, each gazing down at the old photograph of Roger and Emily. The couple are sitting atop a picnic table by a small Oregon lake, their arms intertwined, caught for eternity in a kiss as the sun goes down. Roger's eyes widen as his face heats, and it hits him again, harder than it has in years, that she is gone and he remains. After everything they dreamed, all he has left is this burdensome child, Ben, who he can scarcely stand to look at. Ben, whose fault it is; Ben, who had to come early.
Ben himself gapes at the picture of his mother, struck by the million questions that plague a motherless child. He wonders whether she had been pleased or saddened by the news of her pregnancy, what it would have felt like to hug her, the kind of person she had been. A strict mother full of sharp-tongued rules, or the type with cookies cooling by the windowsill each afternoon?
"You." Roger speaks with loathing. There is nothing more he can say, no words that would articulate the mixture of contempt and pain, loneliness and regret that pierces his heart and swirls through his mind at the moment. His eyes speak everything: his disgust with himself and the life he currently leads, his longing for death, the bitterness he feels towards the boy who managed to survive and his howling need for the woman who did not.
Instead of saying another word, Roger glowers down at Ben, who stares up at him, frozen like a deer in the hateful shine of his eyes. Then, without further ado, he unhooks his belt, sliding it from the loops of his pants. He wants to hit something, wants to break something. A fierce, horrible part of him Emily would have despised wants to punish Ben for daring to come into the world early. The ruined picture in its shattered frame is just an excuse.
Lifting his head, Ben wearily surveys the aeroplane survivors. The majority stand idle, cows or sheep awaiting orders from their shepherds. It is hot and the blood from his recent beating drips down Ben’s face. The cuts smart and sting as his sweat drips into them, but he does not particularly mind the pain. The speckle of bruises, the newly split lip, the small lacerations and the rib he thinks Jack might have cracked are minor sufferings in the scheme of things, and though others might cry, Ben is stoic. Quiet and observant, he watches, searching for his advantage, letting plans spin like spider’s webs in his head. That Jack might fly at him again, that Sayid could pummel and kick the way he did in the hatch, that Sawyer could actually pull the trigger of that gun he carries in his waistband - none of those are grave concerns, not for him. After all, Benjamin Linus knows how to take a beating.