Alex is a vivacious child to everyone but only when he is around does she not act so lively.
This doesn’t surprise him.
He tends to have that effect on people (just his presence can make the boldest man’s smile falter).
Ben retreats and Alex slows to an abrupt stop on the swing, her sandals dragging on the ground with a low grinding sound.
The sun shines brightly over both of them and she squints up at him, studying him unabashedly, and he smiles indulgently at her.
She responds by suddenly grinning toothily at him (only when he smiles does she warm up to him), and bounces slightly on the swing.
“Push me, Richard!”
He does, and the air is filled with her shrieks of delight as she rises higher and higher.
She is eight now and he finds her sitting under a tree a little ways into the jungle.
She’s hugging her knees to her chest, resting her head on them, and on closer inspection he realizes that she is crying.
He doesn’t mean to startle her but he does and her head snaps up as she senses his presence.
She brings her hands up to hastily wipe away the tears that have left streaks on her face.
Her cheeks flame, so red against the brown and green that surround them, and he moves closer quietly, cautiously.
“It’s okay to cry, Alex.”
She meets his eyes at this, and rests her chin on her knees. “Daddy’s mad at me. He said I wasn’t supposed to go so far out here anymore, but I did anyway.”
Ben is prone to keeping Alex cooped up in the house much too often, ever since he had discovered Alex’s love and tendency for exploring the jungle.
He knows Ben’s fear.
He knows how Ben thinks that one of these days Alex might somehow run into her mother.
He has told Ben on many occasions that no such thing would happen.
But Ben is a man of what-ifs and can’t bring himself to believe him.
Alex sniffles, pushing her dark curls away from her face.
He holds out his hand. “Would you like to take a walk with me, Alex?”
Alex looks at him, unsure, but as he smiles softly at her, reassuring her, a smile breaks free from her in return (this is how it’s been since the beginning).
She takes his hand, hers so small in his own. “Okay.”
She’s eleven and he knows she longs for a different kind of life.
She finds a friend in a boy her age named Karl but even his company can’t dispel her loneliness.
He notices that she’s much more serene when she’s on her own (he can’t count the number of times he’s come across her wandering around in the jungle, or looked up to see her sitting in a tree).
Ben doesn’t answer her questions so she comes to him and he’s tactful enough to explain some things but leave the finer details out.
“Did you know my mother, Richard?”
“No, I didn’t.”
She picks up a twig and tosses it back and forth between her hands as she walks beside him.
“Dad doesn’t have any pictures of her. Isn’t that weird?”
The tree branches cast shadows over her face as he looks at her and he answers the only way he can. “You’ll have to talk to your father about this, Alex.”
From this point on she stops asking him questions he can‘t answer truthfully.
She does ask him one more question, and it’s the question he has learned to expect.
“Why don’t you look any older?”
She jumps down from the tree (Ben never knows where to find her when he needs her but Richard does) and he merely stares at her, unperturbed by her blunt words.
Her blue eyes rove over his face, curious. “You look the same as you did when I was little.”
“Time doesn’t have the same effect on me as it does you or anyone else,” He responds simply, and leaves it at that.
He walks back towards the barracks with her following behind him and even though he knows she’s not satisfied with his answer, she stays silent the entire way back.
There are some things people don’t need to know.
For her especially, this is one of those things.
The fertility issue is bothering Ben much more than it should and he assigns him the task of going to the mainland to recruit a woman by the name of Juliet Burke.
Ben believes she may be the one who can end this problem.
Alex catches him before he enters his house, the night before he will board the submarine.
“So you’re leaving tomorrow?” Alex asks, a little too quick and interested. It makes him wonder why. “To get that woman, Juliet?”
“That’s right,” He affirms, looking at her closely. “Is there something you need me to bring back for you?”
“Oh, no,” She shakes her head, her face flushing under the porch light. “I just wanted to know, that’s all.”
She leaves him on his doorstep then, hurrying back towards her house, and it’s only an hour later that he thinks he knows why she asked in the first place.
So he knocks on Ben’s door and Ben opens it, his eyes widening slightly at the sight of him.
Ben steps aside to let him in and he’s barely over the threshold when he declares, “Why don’t I take Alex with me to the mainland tomorrow?”
Ben arches an eyebrow. “Why would you want to do that?”
“She’s thirteen now,” He replies, and all of a sudden he knows that Alex is listening, mere feet away under the cover of darkness in the hallway. “It might do her some good to see the world out there, to get away from here for a while.”
Ben’s face tightens at his words and he feels annoyance stir inside him at the fact that Ben continues to keep Alex on a leash.
A girl like Alex should be able to roam freely.
“I’d keep an eye on her, you know that,” He adds, but Ben’s eyes shine, and he knows the conversation is over.
“No, Richard. That won’t be necessary.”
He hears the click of a door shutting and as he walks out of the house a moment later, Ben puts on a smile and says, “But thank you for your concern.”
He smiles back, every bit of it forced. “Of course.”
He brings Juliet Burke to the island just like he was instructed, but that’s not all he brings.
Everyone gathers around the blonde-haired woman and she eyes them all in surprise and flattery while Ben introduces her, and he walks straight to Alex, who stands, idle, on her front porch, and hands her a package filled with things a teenage girl would need or desire: clothing like jeans and nice t-shirts he has witnessed girls her age wear (but no dresses, because he knows she’s not fond of those, no matter how much Ben expressly states she should be); mystery books (he thinks he overheard her say those were the type of books she enjoyed most); and new shoes (he of all people knows her habit of running through the jungle).
She looks at him in confusion but accepts it, and he just smiles and goes on his way.
He continues to do this for three years, and the smiles and meek thank yous from Alex make it all worth it.
Ben watches, but never says a word.
Ben takes it into his own hands to separate Karl and Alex.
Alex isn‘t exactly very submissive about it.
But Ben is not compliant, not even through Alex’s pleas and rebellious behavior.
She comes to him last.
“Do you know where he is?” She finally asks him, desperation written all over her young face.
“Your father hasn’t spoken to me about this,” He replies, and it’s the truth. “So, no, I don’t know.”
She folds her arms against herself, her hair a curtain around her face. “You don’t have to lie, Richard. If you’re worried about Ben finding out, you don’t have to worry because I won’t tell--”
“I’m not worrying about that,” He cuts across her words, shaking his head. “I told you the truth, Alex, I don’t know.”
She clenches her jaw as he says this, but her shoulders slump.
He means it.
She turns on her heel and shuts his door behind her with a loud snap.
He hears her loud protests and scuffling even from the other end of the long hallway as she‘s taken to Ben‘s office.
Later, he finds her sitting on the beach, alone, her knees to her chest (the sight of this brings forth memories).
He approaches her. “Mind if I sit?”
He gestures towards the spot next to her but she keeps her eyes averted from him, staring out with a steely gaze at the sea. “Whatever you want.”
He takes the invitation, the sand soft beneath him.
“Your father will be looking for you,” He states, and knows it’s the wrong thing to say as he sees her press her lips together, her face tightening.
“I don’t care.”
He tries again. “I’m sorry, Alex, that I couldn’t help you.”
Her face softens at this, just barely (he’s been around her for years so he knows).
She looks at him, her eyes shining, pensive. “What Ben does isn’t your fault.”
He doesn’t have the heart to tell her how wrong she is.
The stars are beginning to emerge, bright pinpricks in the sky, darkness enveloping them.
“He’s just trying to protect you.”
“From what?” She questions, bitterness creeping into her tone.
“He’s your father and he loves you,” He says, trying a different tactic (half-truths are always a step up) and she sucks in a deep breath.
“I hate him,” She declares vehemently.
He’s been here many times before, always the one to counsel her, comfort her, and reason with her, whenever she and Ben have their disagreements.
He wonders why he even bothers.
“Ben says he has a tumor.”
Her voice is so quiet now, such a stark contrast from how her words are usually delivered.
“I know,” He says softly.
He’s known of this for a while, knows very well of Jacob’s disapproval towards Ben for making too many decisions on his own, for being swayed from what he’s supposed to do (he’s told Ben countless times that the fertility problem was not the most pressing matter to be dealt with but Ben turned a deaf ear on that warning and now he will have to pay the price).
Alex shivers next to him and he suddenly feels the chilly breeze the night has brought with it.
He gets up and offers his hand. “Let’s go back.”
She accepts it with no hesitation (he knows she’s tired), dejected, her hand still small and almost fragile in his.
He isn’t surprised by many things but she definitely surprises him this time as her lips meet his, soft and insistent, her hand reaching up to rest against his shoulder, fingers gliding over the soft material of his dress shirt.
He pulls away, placing his hand against the side of her face tentatively, feeling the wetness there.
He knows why she’s doing this.
Ben doesn’t understand her and is ill and Karl is far beyond her reach (for all she knows, he could be dead), and she craves comfort.
But he can’t give it to her, not like this.
He can barely see her face in the darkness now.
He drops his hand. “You should go back, Alex.”
She backs away (now he can’t see her face at all) and flees from him.
He listens to the sound of her footfalls growing fainter with a heavy heart.
She’s lonely, and she’s confused.
After all, he had been a teenager once, a long, long time ago.
She won’t look him in the eye.
He expected that.
He regrets being so harsh, so unfeeling, that night.
So he attempts to make amends, and one night he finally figures out how (Aldo just didn’t know how to be discreet).
He catches her alone the next day (Ben is busy with Juliet, dealing with the three plane crash survivors they managed to capture).
“Karl’s being kept in Room 23 at the Hydra,” He tells her, and her eyes bore into his, astonished (all humiliation forgotten).
He walks away.
She’s gone within the hour and everyone else notices this in another hour.
He feigns ignorance.
Juliet brings her back and Alex’s face is as morose as ever.
But her shoulders are set and she walks with confidence.
He suppresses a smile as he knows she succeeded in what she had wanted to do.
They leave the barracks and make camp when night draws near.
She still keeps her distance from him.
He often sees her sitting by the fire, staring into it with a far-away expression as the flames dance across her face.
He leaves her alone.
Ben makes plans to meet the plane crash survivors on their way to the radio tower.
Alex steps up and insists on going with Ben, and Ben doesn’t argue.
He doesn’t like this idea.
They’ve infiltrated the survivors’ camp, kidnapped some of them, threatened them, even killed them (even though Ethan shouldn’t have done what he did).
Those people are more aware of this than ever and the chance that over forty people who want nothing more than to get off this island will show mercy to two people they deem as “Others” is very slim.
He suggests accompanying Ben and Alex there.
Ben tells him to take everyone else to The Temple instead.
He watches them leave, and he knows Alex feels his eyes on her but she doesn’t look back.
The minute he wakes up he knows there’s something different about today.
It’s a feeling he can’t shake; it resides inside him, eating away at him until he can’t stand it anymore.
Even the weather is odd, the clouds darkening ominously in the sky.
He tells his people to stay, that there’s something he has to check up on, and that he’ll be back within a day.
He makes his way back to the barracks.
Halfway there he discovers the bodies of Danielle and Karl.
Alex is not there.
This should reassure him but it doesn’t.
Their eyes stare blankly up at him and he reaches down to close them.
He tucks them under only a few layers of dirt, their bodies not completely obscured (he’ll do the job right later), and keeps going.
As he nears the barracks, yelling and whirring sounds shatter the air, along with flashes of light (he knows what’s taking place now), but he manages to evade the smoke easily.
He steps into the backyard and as he sees it he moves closer slowly.
Ben is bent over a prone figure on the ground, his body shaking.
Ben pulls back and there she is, still, unmoving, dried blood caked in her hair and streaked across her forehead.
“I let him do it, Richard,” Ben utters in despair as he stops in front of him, his face anguished. “All I had to do was cooperate, but I just let him do it.”
The yelling has ceased and everything around them is so very quiet.
The sky is darker than ever and the silence rings in his ears.
Ben looks to his left, towards the jungle, and his face is hardened now, the helplessness and misery cast away for the time being. “There’s something I have to do. Could you…”
Ben looks up at him, beseeching him, then back down at Alex’s body.
He nods stiffly.
As Ben walks away, disappearing into the jungle, he realizes that Alex had died exactly as she had felt in life.
She is so light in his arms, her head lolling against his chest, and he walks through the jungle at a slow stride.
After a few minutes he stops, sets her down carefully on the ground, and brushes her curls away from her face.
Her lips are parted slightly, her features smooth.
She looks as if she is merely sleeping.
He buries her.
He puts three bullets in the man’s back.
The grim satisfaction courses through his veins.
“Hi, Richard,” She greets, her voice so familiar and innocent, and every time it gets harder to turn away.
Her fingers curl around his hand, grasping it tightly.
She feels cold.
Everything about her is cold.
Months pass and she’s still there, an ever-present nightmare.
“You cared about me, didn’t you?”
Her eyes glimmer darkly, sharp enough to pierce through skin.
“Yes, Alex, I cared,” He sighs, indulging it just this one time.
She smiles sweetly at him.
“I looked up to you,” She says, once.
It’s not her, but he’d be lying if he said it didn’t hurt.
The Temple used to be his safe haven.
That has changed.
She swings around a pillar, her thin fingers tracing the hieroglyphics, her face shining with bright interest.
“Why don’t you visit me more?”
Her voice is curious; the hurt underlying it is easily detectable.
He doesn’t answer.
Inside that place she waits, unaffected by time.
He begins to dread the days he has to go back in.
She looks the same, still.
He thinks he knows how it feels now to witness something like that.
Everything around them changes.
That’s how it will always be.
The years keep on passing by.