Stay, PG, Ben/Richard
rating: PG, quite tame but there's some mental anguish
pairing: Richard/Ben, but you can probably read it as Richard/Ben friendship if you like.
summary: A recovering Richard encourages Ben to have a little faith...and to stay the night.
setting: The night after the events of "Dr Linus".
He went back for the gun as night settled around the makeshift campsite.
Throughout the evening, voices had penetrated the thin tarp that served as the walls to Ben's temporary shelter. At first, the tones had been cheerful, the conversation punctuated with laughter, but soon enough it had given way to a more sombre mood. The lucky few, the survivors waiting on the deserted stretch of beach, had no idea what had become of the rest of their number. In whispers, the pondered the fates of friends and loved ones. Darkness had come too fast for comfort, abruptly silencing the talk, and each person had moved in the still silence of their own anxious thoughts, dwelling on worries or mourning predictable losses, shivering with unspeakable fear and all of them thinking, as Ben too had thought, of the man who appeared in the form of John Locke.
An hour after the last feeble "good night" sounded, Ben rose from the sand where he had been perched and stuck his head out of the tent flap, surveying the scene. Remnants of the evening's fire had been carefully smothered; only a few failing orange embers were visible beneath the layer of ash. He noted the caution with approval; this was not a night to leave the fire burning, as the light was more likely to attract danger than friends. The skins and cores of the fruit that had served for dinner had been tossed aside, and Ben kicked sand over them out of habit. There was no reason to bring in insects or animals; their camp was defenceless enough. He removed his shirt, grimacing at the sweat stains and dirt. It would make a convenient excuse for his wandering. After all, the tepid water of the ocean was still and waiting, and anyone who knew him at all understood his fastidious nature.
The rifle was precisely where he had left it, perched against Sun's lean-to. He lifted it, instantly comforted by the weight. Tearful confessions aside, Ben was not a man who left his fate to chance, and though his explanation to Ilana had been sincere, he did not see a need to remain completely at the mercy of anyone's benevolence.
It was then, as he began to creep back towards his tent, that he heard the sob.
Narrowing his eyes, Ben stopped silently, listening. For a moment there was nothing, then he heard it again. Shaking his head, he glanced at the tents and haphazardly constructed shelters. Silence reigned for a few moments, and Ben stole back to his own shelter, hastily wrapping the gun in a scrap of tarp and stowing it in the narrow ditch he had dug in the sand. As he soundlessly covered the cache with loose, dry sand, he strained to detect the sound of anyone moving. Instead, he heard the sob again, muffled but most assuredly real.
Creeping back out, Ben moved through the camp. He scanned the tree line, looking nervously into the darkness of the jungle. The night was still, and the only sounds issuing from the trees were the calls of birds and insects, the occasional rustle of palm fronds. The ocean lapped the shore gently, equally unhelpful. Then the sound came again, so close Ben nearly jumped.
He heard Richard's sharp intake of breath and quietly marvelled; if he had ever managed to sneak up on Richard before, the memory was lost to him. Indeed, the man seemed to sense the arrival of other people in his vicinity long before they could possibly be visible. However, the sense of victory evaporated quickly. The sound he had heard, the sob, had come from Richard, and that was a fact Ben could barely fathom. He had never seen the other man distracted by emotion. Even the most heinous crimes committed under Richard's watch had resulted in little more than a maudlin expression and an exhortation to move on for the good of the island. If Richard - Richard! - was crying, it meant something very bad.
Ben brushed his hand against the blanket Richard strung up on the bamboo poles of an old temporary dwelling to create his shelter and then pulled it back, allowing himself entrance. Unlike his own accommodation, Richard's had a small mat on the ground to serve as a bed and the remaining expanse of sandy floor was covered a ragged blanket on which the man was sitting. Stifling the natural jealousy, Ben frowned. Richard's eyes gleamed up at him, rimmed with red. The deep brown irises still seemed to hide all the secrets of the universe, but there was emotion there too, sorrow and loss, fear and bewilderment, feelings Ben had seen writ across his own face in recent days.
"Are you going back to him?" Richard demanded. "Him," he added with emphasis as Ben furrowed his brow in confusion. "Are you joining his side?"
Ben shook his head, unsure how to explain the defensive feelings that rose up in him. "No."
"Then what are you doing?"
“I - needed water. I heard a sound, I thought it could be the survivors from the Temple.”
“You know as well as I do, they’re all dead,” Richard said. “Without Jacob, that place is meaningless, a tomb. Do you understand? Everything we’ve worked for, all the things we’ve been through; without him, there is nothing.”
Avoiding Richard's gaze, Ben sat down beside him on the ground. He folded his hands carefully and stared at them. He could almost see blood. He did not know what he was planning to say until the words escaped his lips. "I killed Jacob," he spoke softly. He could hear the guilt in his voice, coupled with trembling pride he could not explain. The old anger was still there, the feelings that had provoked him, and the righteousness he had felt towards his anger ever since Alex had been lost. "It was me."
Ben had expected shock and outrage, but Richard nodded slowly, not looking the least surprised by the revelation. "I know."
"You do?" Ben frowned. "Ilana told you? Or was it Miles?"
"Hugo, actually," Richard corrected. Tears glazed his eyes, but did not spill as he stared at the ground. As Ben stared at him curiously, Richard lifted his head and met his gaze. "At the Black Rock."
"Why were you there?"
For a long moment, Richard did not speak. He took a deep breath, feeling every one of his years in the weight that pressed down on his shoulders. "I went there to die."
Ben's eyes widened in shock. "What? Richard -"
"I lost hope," Richard interrupted. His voice was soft, barely audible, but powerful nonetheless, and Ben found himself riveted. "I saw no reason to carry on. Everything I had ever done, everything I thought I was - I believed it was all gone." He shook his head slowly, denouncing his thoughts. "You weren't the only one left with questions, Ben. Jacob demanded sacrifices from us all."
Bitterly, Ben looked away. "Sacrifices - like Alex."
"He didn't want her to die. You should know that, she was never just a pawn." Richard's eyes sparkled. "It wasn't supposed to happen that way."
"He gave you everything!" Ben snapped. Hurt and shaking from the memories, Ben glared, but this was not a situation he could bluff his way out of, and however cleverly he lied, he could not escape the truth. I made the decision...I let her die. "- But I thought it was for the island," he continued out loud. "Anything, anything for this island, for Jacob. You told me -"
Richard held up a hand to silence him. "I wasn't wrong. Believe me, I've had my doubts. All these years, waiting for the answers, following the orders...but it wasn't for nothing." He took a deep breath. "I found a box of dynamite there, still left in the hull of the ship. I thought maybe someone would have taken it by now, but there was plenty left. I had Jack light the fuse."
Ben bit his lip. "And?"
Richard's smile was rueful and faint. "I'm still here."
"And that proves everything, does it?" Ben asked harshly. "It could have been a coincidence -"
"Nothing is coincidence, Ben."
"So you survived, but what about the rest? Everyone else who trusted in him, what's happened to them? Dogen was murdered, all the rest who were unlucky enough to be in that Temple when that, that - thing - came looking for them. Jacob didn't deign to intervene there, did he?"
Richard shook his head. "No. But it was Jacob in the Temple who brought you back to life when you were shot as a child, Jacob who watched you every step of the way." He closed his eyes. The promises had been made decades ago, and he no longer saw any reason to hold to them. "He spoke of you, often. Everything you did, each decision you made, he knew. He saw the way people changed you: your father, Widmore, Alex. With every loss, he felt you pulled further away. I never understood before. I persuaded him to reconsider every time he passed judgment on you, but now, I understand why." He looked up at Ben, meeting the other man's eyes. "He must have known death was coming for him, and that you would be the bearer."
Silently, Ben rose. He dusted the sand from his trousers and raked back his hair to distract himself from the burn of tears against his eyelids. Turning away wordlessly, he shifted the tent flap, desperate to make his escape before the tears spilled. However, before he could vanish into the darkness and retreat to his own shelter or the dark jungle, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Glancing over his shoulder, Ben glared. "Don't what?"
“Don’t leave this place, Ben. Don’t go to him.”
Ben shook his head. “I won’t -”
Unconvinced, Richard continued. "He won't be able to bring her back. Oh, he'll promise," Richard said softly, gazing out over the ocean. "There are so many ways to lure a person over to his side. Money, for some, or power. For others, restoring the lives of the dead, but he can't do it, Ben. He can fashion things in their shapes, ghosts that walk or talk like the people we remember, but he will never be able to give you what you really want."
"Then what am I supposed to do?" Ben demanded, crossing his arms tightly. He felt hollow inside, but the emptiness did not bring numbness. Instead, agony resided, the feelings of loss and anger he had worked so hard to outrun.
Richard's hand remained on his shoulder, warm and somehow comforting. "Stay.”
Ben stared at the sand glumly, indecisive. “Why?”
For a moment, there was no answer. Richard debated, not sure he himself understood his own motivations. There was the longing for company among these largely hostile strangers and foes, and the familiarity he felt towards Ben was undeniable. However, there was something more. “Because I want you to,” Richard said simply, pushing the questions away. There would be time for understanding later. He did not smile, but his eyes gleamed in the dark, utterly expressive. He guided Ben back into the tent and let the blanket sway closed behind them, engulfing them both in a warm, welcoming darkness where the only sounds were the beatings of their respective hearts and the sound of the ocean, crashing against the shore.