Some beautiful place to get lost

by Kass

Ben Linus / Danielle Rousseau; set post-series. Thanks to kouredios for beta!

He hadn't been ready to go with them. It wouldn't have been right. His life had been intertwined with theirs in at least two incarnations, but they weren't family to him in the same way they were to each other. Besides, most of them didn't even like him. He could hardly blame them.

Still, Ben felt surprisingly lonely in the weeks after everyone from his other life -- the island life -- disappeared. He'd sat outside the church for what felt like hours. When he got up to leave, he knew that Jack and Kate, Sawyer and Juliet, Locke, Hurley -- none of them were in the church any longer. They'd moved on, and he hadn't, and he felt alone.

Once he'd remembered that other life, everything in this one had felt subtly off-balance. He was walking around with two sets of memories, both of them his own, and he couldn't help comparing them, trying to make sense out of who he had been and who he had become. Had he chosen this bloodless life as penance for what he had done? If he spent ten lifetimes caring for the sick and teaching children, would it be enough to atone for the decisions he had made?

This weekly dinner with Danielle and Alex was his saving grace. Ben stood in front of the mirror, looking at himself with a critical eye. No sweater-vest, no tie tonight; they felt too much like his professional uniform. He might at least pretend that there was more to his life than the vagaries of the History Club.

Was this shirt too wrinkled from the day of teaching? He should change altogether, he decided, and went to leaf through his closet.

It would be good to get out of the house, good to have a break from caring for his father. Not that his father was any trouble, but sometimes Ben looked around their living room at the oxygen tank paraphernalia and the ancient television and felt an inchoate sadness which threatened to swallow him whole.

Sometimes teaching helped. Opened his eyes and his world. And other times it just made matters worse: when the kids didn't listen, when it became increasingly obvious that they were more interested in their cellphones and their Facebook status updates than in the intricacies of the Thirty Years' War.

But Alex was different. Had always been different.

...though now that he remembered who they had been to one another -- who he had been; what he had done, and not done -- that memory complicated everything. Intertwined with his joy at seeing Alex thrive was a thread of agony at the remembered sound of her voice pleading for her life just before Keamy pulled the trigger--

No. He wouldn't think about it. He pushed it out of his mind, pulled a shirt from the closet more or less at random, and slipped his arms into the sleeves. It was Friday night; the end of the work-week; time for his measured weekly allotment of companionship.

If he allowed himself to acknowledge it, Alex was the reason he hadn't been ready to move on to whatever was next. He owed her at least a lifetime of trying to repair what he had broken. And if he couldn't help a glimmer of attraction to Rousseau (and who could? she was independent and smart and stunning and probably had as many suitors as he had students) he could at least keep it to himself. He wouldn't hurt anyone this time.

Ben rang the doorbell, even though Danielle had insisted that it was fine for him to just walk in. He was loathe to intrude.

"Benjamin! Welcome," Danielle said, kissing him on both cheeks. She was wearing a tweed skirt and silk blouse and sensible pumps; conservative paralegal wear, and yet the quick pecks on the cheek left him slightly giddy. From the closeness, he knew, though he tried to convince himself it was just her perfume. "Supper is almost ready."

"Hey, Dr. Linus," Alex said, putting the last few pieces of silverware on the table.

Danielle disappeared into the kitchen and returned bearing a cast-iron dutch oven, then went back for the wooden salad bowl. Ben went straight to his usual seat at the table (and how incredible was it that he had a usual seat?) Danielle poured them both glasses of red wine, without asking.

"So what's new?" Alex asked, serving herself cassoulet.

"Nothing much." Ben took the pot from her and inhaled deeply. Garlic and duck and white beans and wine. Rosemary, maybe. He dished himself a portion, then passed it to Danielle.

"That's what you always say!"

"That's because it's always true."

Danielle leaned forward slightly. "How's the book coming along?"

The third or fourth time he'd come for supper, Ben had found himself telling Danielle and Alex about the book he'd been yearning to write, an analysis of Napoleon's battle career. They had responded with such enthusiasm that he'd actually sat down to write a few pages.

But then he'd been hit with his own history -- the other Ben Linus had been, it seemed to him now, a power-hungry little Napoleon -- and he hadn't written a word since.

"I haven't had much time for it lately," Ben said, after a pause which stretched slightly too long.

"I'm sure it'll keep," Alex said, and in the encouraging tilt of her head Ben recognized his own mannerisms when he was encouraging her. Seeing himself reflected in her, even in this small way, sent a powerful shock through him. He took another drink of wine to cover the wave of emotion.

"This is delicious," he said to Danielle, gesturing to his plate with his fork. "How do you find the time?"

"One word," Alex mock-whispered: "crockpot!"

"I use no such thing!" Danielle's voice was indignant. "I started the cassoulet Wednesday after work. I was up late finishing a case for Carlton and Grey."

Ben couldn't imagine working full-time as a paralegal and then doing almost another full caseload after hours. "I don't know how you do it."

"The cooking brings me joy," Danielle said, and her smile was radiant; Ben felt a pang of longing, which he resolutely ignored.

"Lucky for me," he said, and did his best to smile.

"Benjamin. What's on your mind?"

Danielle was loading the dishwasher. Alex had gone out with friends after supper and wouldn't be back until late; Ben had taken off his sportcoat and rolled up his sleeves to wash the pots.

"Just...thinking," Ben said, automatically. The warm water was soothing, and the dutch oven was coming clean beneath the scrub sponge. He should have stopped there, but something spurred him to continue. "Do you ever imagine that we've -- been here before?"

"Absolutely," Danielle said immediately. Ben looked over at her in surprise.

She shrugged one shoulder, elegant. "It seems absurd to me to imagine that this is our only lifetime. Surely we have been here before. Perhaps we have even met before, you and I!"

If you only knew, Ben thought, and tried again to swallow the bitterness of regret. "I've been remembering." Ben stared at his sudsy hands as though he expected to see them crusted with blood. "The things I've done. Before."

"Oh?" Danielle sounded curious.

"I think I -- wasn't a very good man." The words caught in his throat. What a ridiculous understatement.

"Then this time is different," Danielle said firmly.

"You can't know that."

"You have been wonderful to Alexandra."

"I'm glad," Ben said, and meant it. He turned off the faucet and put the last pot to dry in the dish drainer. Nothing he could ever do for Alex would make up for what he had taken from her, but at least in this lifetime she actively chose his company. It was more grace than he deserved.

"I think," Danielle said, meditatively, and turned on the dishwasher. Its rushing hum filled the kitchen, a comforting sound. Ben waited, but she didn't finish the sentence.

"You think?"

"I think you should have a brandy," she said.


"Because I would like a glass of calvados, and I would prefer not to be drinking alone." She flashed him a smile.

"Well, if you insist," Ben said, unable to resist smiling back. His father had said to enjoy himself; he'd be in bed already anyway. What could it hurt if he stayed a little bit longer?

"Coming here for dinner is the best part of my week," Ben admitted. The apple brandy had burned deliciously all the way to his belly, and this second glass was loosening his lips. He should probably be worried about that, but he wasn't. He felt at-ease.

"I think Alexandra would say the same," Danielle said lightly.

Part of him exulted to hear Danielle's words; every bit of proof that he was good for Alex, that she valued having him in her life, felt like a reprieve. And yet, he realized belatedly, some part of him had been hoping to hear Danielle say that she looked forward to seeing him, too. Idiot! What was the matter with him? She was beautiful, poised, extraordinary. At his best, he was a nebbish who taught high school history. And at his worst --

" are not listening, are you?" The fondness in Danielle's voice made his chest ache.

"I'm sorry." Ben drank the last swig from his glass and set it down on the end table beside the sofa.

"I was saying that I look forward to our Friday nights, too." Danielle's face was serious but her eyes were smiling. A curl of hair had escaped the chignon atop her head and he had to resist the temptation to reach out and tuck it behind her ear.

Ben felt electrified. Was she flirting with him? She was, he was certain of it, and it had been a long time since he'd done this dance but he remembered the steps. Now it was his turn to move, to say something that would draw her in.

And just as suddenly, fear swept through him. He couldn't do this. He knew who he was; who he was capable of being. She didn't, and he should keep it that way. "I should go," he said hastily, and rose.

Danielle rose too. They were standing too close together. Ben was excruciatingly aware of her proximity, of the scent of her perfume, the tiny wrinkles around her eyes, the curve of her breast beneath the silk of her blouse.

He wasn't sure what possessed him, but he took one step closer. And she didn't move away.

One kiss, he thought, and then she's going to remember who I was and what I've done, and she's going to tell me to get the hell out of her life and never come back. He knew with a sudden certainty that once their lips met, she would remember everything. She would hate him. She had every right to hate him.

But not-kissing her was becoming unbearable. Fine: one kiss, and that would be all he would get. It would have to be enough. With a maelstrom of emotion rushing through him, Ben reached for Danielle, cupped her face with his hand, brought her close. And oh. Oh, it was so good. The press of her body against his; her mouth opening to him; just an instant to let himself revel --

The memories swept through him. Rousseau on the island with her lean-to and her rifle. The moment when he had taken Alex away. The years of watching Alex grow up, never letting himself think about her mother who was slowly going insane outside the electrified compound walls. And then, worst of all, that last moment -- Alex on her knees, her anguished voice, the sound of the gunshot --

-- and yet here-and-now he was holding Danielle Rousseau in his arms. He was touch-starved; his body craved more contact. And she had not yet pulled away.

When they broke apart, Ben braced himself for heartbreak. But instead Danielle reached for him. He was dizzied. The kiss was slower, this time. More tender. He felt as though he was shattering into a million pieces.

She wasn't rejecting him. It didn't make sense.

Ben pulled back and looked away, unable to face her. "I don't deserve this."

"I know," Danielle said, but there was no recrimination in her voice.

"The things I've done --"

Danielle intertwined their fingers, and the press of her hand silenced him. His thumb stroked over hers.

"Love isn't about 'deserving,'" Danielle said quietly.

Love. She'd said love. She didn't mean -- she couldn't mean --

"I've been a terrible excuse for a human being," Ben pleaded, though he wasn't sure exactly what he was pleading for: the punishment he deserved?

"Not this time around." She sounded so certain.

And it was true. His failures in this life had been failures of timidity, nothing on the scale of what he had done before. But he couldn't help seeing himself through a kind of double vision: Dr. Ben Linus, Samaritan, and Ben Linus, sociopath, both at the same time. Danielle remembered now. Why hadn't she slapped him in the face? Thrown him out of her house, threatened to have him fired?

"I know who you are," Danielle said. The words felt like a benediction. "And I was hoping you might...stay a while." She inclined her head in the direction of the bedrooms. Then she added, with a hint of impishness, "assuming you want to...?"

"Of course I want to," Ben said, automatically, because what kind of ridiculous question was that?

"Good," Danielle said, and with their joined hands she tugged him down the hall where he had never even allowed himself to think about going. They went past the door to Alex's room (in the half-dark he could see posters on the walls, bookshelves, clothes on the floor) and through the next into Danielle's darkened bedroom. Wooden floors, soft rugs, king-sized bed with the covers still rumpled from the morning. Danielle turned on one bedside light and in the sideways illumination she looked radiant.

"You are so beautiful," Ben said, because she was. She beamed at him and his heart caught in his throat.

His hands went to the button at the top of his shirt, but she reached out. "Let me," she said, and Ben allowed her to push him back onto the bed, to climb over him and tug his shirttails out of his trousers. She removed his glasses and he shuddered at the gentle touch of her hands at his temples. When she unbuttoned the shirt and let it fall open he felt exposed, giddy, afraid.

And then she tugged at his belt, unbuttoned -- unzipped -- and Ben had to close his eyes and bite his lip to keep from making an embarrassing noise as Danielle worked him out of his trousers and underwear. Oh, God, how long had it been?

More than twenty years since graduate school. No one had been interested in him in almost two decades, and why would they be? He was a fusty bachelor who lived with his aging father. And the other life had been no less lonely: he remembered now that he had paid a prostitute, from time to time, when he was off the island, but it had never been like this.

He'd spent so many years in his lonely bed with no company other than his own hands. Lately he'd all but given up masturbation; it was predictable and barely satisfying. It had no more similarity to this than fast food had to a ten-course meal. He had forgotten how it felt to have someone else invested, however temporarily, in his body and in his pleasure.

And then she took him into her mouth and he couldn't stop the groan. Couldn't stop himself from thrusting up, his whole body liquefying with pleasure.

"Danielle," he managed, and his voice broke. "I'm not going to last --"

She pulled back and smiled at him, her eyes knowing, her lips tantalizingly wet. "One day," she said, "I hope to do this all afternoon." The intention in her voice made him shudder. "For as long as you can stand it."

"You've thought this through," Ben said, trying to sound light instead of flabbergasted.

"In some detail," Danielle said, and Ben had to clench everything in him to keep from coming right then. She had plans. She had thought about this. She had lain in this very bed, maybe with her fingers slipping inside her panties, and she had thought about what she wanted to do with him. This extraordinarily beautiful woman wanted him. He didn't deserve this.

"Anything you want," he said, and hoped it sounded like a promise. She curled her fingers around his cock and he thrust into her hand helplessly. "Oh, God --" He was so close. His body burned with it.

"Let go," Danielle said, and bent over him again.

One thrust, two, and he was following her instruction, gasping with release. He was still reeling when she released him and climbed up the bed to lie by his side.

"That was amazing," he said, the words inadequate on his tongue, and reached for her. Danielle came willingly, rolling onto her side to intertwine with him, her skirt riding up as she slid one thigh between his, and they kissed like teenagers, hands moving restlessly over each others' bodies.

He wanted to see her. He unfastened her skirt and she kicked it away; together they worked her free of her blouse, and she reached behind herself to unhook her bra, her breasts coming free. His own clothes, half-on, felt confining. He pulled them off, not caring where they went, hungry for skin-on-skin.

And she responded to everything he tried. His hands skimming her hips; his mouth on her neck, her breasts. She squirmed and bit her lip and leaned into his touch.

Ben knelt between her legs and hooked his fingers into the waistband of her panties. "May I?" he asked.

"Such a gentleman," she teased, smiling, as she lifted her hips so he could tug the silky fabric free.

He trailed a finger along her cleft, hardly believing this was really happening. Danielle gave a little sigh and opened her thighs further. "Like this," she said, her voice low, and took his wrist and guided a finger inside. Hot and wet, God, so wet, and his spent cock tried to stir. "Yes," Danielle said, dreamily, as Ben fingered her. "Oh. Yes."

He'd always been good with his hands. His college girlfriend had admitted, when they finally broke up (months after they stopped liking one another), that she wouldn't miss his conversation but she'd miss his fingers. At the time it had felt almost like a compliment; it wasn't until years later that the emotional slap in the face had really stung. But oh, he had forgotten how much he loved this: figuring out just how to move his hands to make a woman clench around him, to make her quiver, watching the flush spread across her breasts...

And then her hands clutched his wrist with desperation, and she was arching under his hands, head thrown back and mouth open with pleasure. Ben couldn't help the groan that escaped him when she came.

They necked again, afterwards. Slower, with less intensity. Ben felt as though he were drowning in her; he didn't want to come up for air.

But he had to.

"I should go," he said, after a long while.

"I suppose," Danielle agreed, and watched him rummage in the bedclothes for his own clothing. His shirt was horrendously wrinkled. He'd do some ironing tomorrow.

She watched him dress in silence. Putting his clothing on ought to have made him feel less vulnerable, but it didn't. When he was done, he sat at the edge of the bed. She curled on one side, facing him, eyes dark and unreadable.

"I have to ask," he said quietly, and she nodded, inviting. "Why?"

Danielle's exhalation was almost a sigh. "Because you are brilliant, and witty, and charming," she said. All he could think was, I was all of those things in my last life, too, and look where they got me -- look where they got you. But before he could speak, she added, "And you are caring. And kind. And my daughter already loves you."

His throat was suspiciously tight and his eyes were threatening tears. Ben swallowed hard. "I'm pretty sure no one's ever called me kind before."

"Then they have not been paying attention," Danielle said.

Ben rose.

"I have to ask," she said, and it stopped him in his tracks.

"Yes?" he prompted around the fear in his throat. There were so many damning questions she could ask about the man he had been.

"Must I wait until Friday to see you again?"

Relief washed over him like the island waves. "I don't suppose so, if you'd rather not."

"Alex has band practice on Monday evening. We'd have the house to ourselves..." She quirked a smile and Ben felt heat rising in his face, a schoolboy blush.

"I was thinking I'd take you out to dinner," he said, though he wondered whether it was lame to make a counteroffer when she was clearly offering sex again. "You've cooked for me often enough --"

"A late supper," Danielle suggested.

"After we work up an appetite?" He could hardly believe the words coming out of his mouth, but they were apparently not inappropriate; Danielle's peal of laughter was balm to his heart.

"Magnifique," she said, and rolled onto her back, languid and at-ease.

"Good night," Ben said, softly, wonderingly, and backed out of her room.

When he got to his car, he sat in the driver's seat, folded his head into his hands, and wept.

The End