||[May. 17th, 2008|01:37 am]
The Universal Constant
TITLE: The Universal Constant, Part 6|
AUTHORS: infinitenesmith & hauntermooneyes
RATING: Mostly PG-13 with occasional spurts of R-rated language
PAIRINGS: Desmond/Penny (pre-established), Dan/Charlotte (hints of)
DESCRIPTION: A post-Island Lost/Discworld crossover fic. It's been a little less than a year since all the problems have been sorted out with the survivors of Oceanic 815, the mysterious island on which they were marooned, and its other inhabitants. But Desmond Hume is finding it difficult to re-adjust to life. He's plagued by nightmares and disturbing visions. He always feels as if he's being watched. Is it paranoia, or something far more sinister? Only Ms. Hawking and the History Monks know for sure...
NOTES: You know the drill...possible season 4 spoilers!
Daniel Faraday had it pretty good, all things considered.
He had always loved the more complicated aspects of science, but his brief encounter with the mysterious island in the South Pacific had sparked an excitement he hadn’t felt in years. It made him want to start researching and experimenting again.
He was therefore pleasantly surprised when, upon his return, some very rich men offered him quite a lot of money with the understanding that he wouldn’t breathe a word of the island’s existence or eccentricities to anyone. How could he say no? He certainly didn’t want anybody messing with the island; it had too many interesting properties that weren’t found anywhere else on Earth.
There was enough money for him to construct an elaborate basement laboratory, to hire people to take care of the everyday things he didn’t have the time or the patience for, and to allow him to tinker and experiment to his heart’s content without having to worry about expenses.
What Daniel Faraday didn’t know was that the same men who had funded this lifestyle were keeping a very close eye on him to make sure that he upheld his end of the bargain. And, on the fringes of reality, there were others who watched…
A grey-robed shape floated in a corner near the ceiling, and what it saw was perceived by hundreds of millions of identical consciousnesses, all sharing its view.
It watched as Faraday darted here and there around the room, synchronizing machines, scribbling equations, and adjusting settings, all the while murmuring to himself in quiet excitement. It watched as he pulled on a pair of goggles and flipped a switch, only to be met with a disappointing whining noise and the crack of shorted-out wiring somewhere in one of the machines. And it watched as he waved the smoke away and began re-writing his equations to see where he had gone wrong.
He was in the middle of this process, moving much faster than any person had the right to, when the woman who functioned as his combination housekeeper and secretary stuck her head into the room.
“Hmm? What?” said Faraday, not looking up from his notebook.
“There’s someone here to see you.”
“I’m not expecting anybody.”
“It’s a Miss Penelope Widmore. She says it’s important.”
“Tell her I’m very busy.”
The secretary ducked out of the room, and there was some hurried whispering on the other side of the door before she stuck her head in again.
“She says it’s about Desmond Hume.”
Faraday paused in his writing and finally lifted his head. “Desmond Hume?”
Another pause, then a thoughtful nod. “Let her in.”
Penny was ushered in, looking stressed and even a bit worried. Above him, the hovering Auditor began to pay keener attention.
She offered Faraday her hand. "Daniel Faraday?"
"One and only," he replied, shaking her hand. "Well--mostly only. There was another Faraday, but he wasn't Daniel, he was Michael, and he--"
"Desmond asked me to come find you," she said, effectively shutting him up.
"He did? What's wrong with him?"
"He thinks he's going mad."
Faraday fixed her with a blank look and then grinned, a little nervously. "I, uh, I don't know how much help I can--"
He thinks he's going mad," she barreled on, "because he's temporally disassociated."
He hesitated. "That...could be...what did you call it?"
"Temporal disassociation." Above them, the Auditor was joined by two others. "It means--"
"--that he exists in the past, present, and future all at once. Oh dear. Yes. Yes, that could--" Faraday cast about for a pencil, seized the nearest notebook, and started to scribble. "That works--yes--temporal disassociation. His consciousness has access to all three states of time--"
"Mr. Faraday," said Penny in a low, urgent voice, "I'm worried about him. He isn't making sense. Could he go insane because of this?"
He stopped writing long enough to look oddly at her. "Well, um--yes."
She sighed. "He--I--hoped you could help him."
"What? Me? What could--how could I--? I'm no psychiatrist," Faraday stammered, clutching the notebook like a lifeline.
"No, but you seem like you know--"
"Listen, miss, I mean--Miss Widmore, I--I'm sorry," he said at last, deflating. "I'm sorry. I don't think there's--anything--I can do."
“He said you helped him once before,” Penny insisted, folding her arms and giving Faraday a calculating look.
“Helped? Oh, oh, right.” Recollection dawned on Faraday’s face. “But that was years ago. Sort of. And that wasn’t like this. I didn’t really…all I did was tell him about needing a constant and…oh.” He paused, cocking his head to one side. “That was you, wasn’t it.”
Penny was momentarily bewildered. “I’m sorry?”
“His constant. You. He said it'd be a person."
"I don't know what--"
"Never mind, never mind, I mean, it obviously worked. That's interesting. So it can be a person! That's very--sorry," he murmured, seeing her expression. "This isn't the same thing. He was in the wrong time the, the last time. I could help him then..."
"But you can't now."
"I don't--think so."
Temporal disassociation, murmured one of the Auditors.
He is...too unusual.
But what does this mean?
Perhaps we can find out.
The conversation continued below as Penny leaned across one of the cluttered tables to look Faraday in the eye.
“Mr. Faraday, I’m going to be frank with you. I’m here because I’m running out of options. Of course you’re not a psychiatrist, but I don’t think Desmond needs a psychiatrist. He needs someone who understands some of the things he’s gone through and, much as I hate to admit it, I don’t. I can’t.”
"I can't either," he replied, and hesitated. "Well--not very well."
"But you could come close. You were on that island too--"
"Not as long..."
"But you were."
"Miss, I don't...what sort of insane are we talking about?"
"Hallucinations. Seeing things he shouldn't see."
"Yes. He thinks someone's following him around..."
Faraday frowned pensively into space. Suddenly he turned, hop-skipping over the books and papers littered across the floor, and went to the wall-length bookshelf. After a moment, he came back, carrying a heavy volume. "This is--a book--"
"Yes, I see that."
"No, it's about time, and it's about the creatures that live in it."
"No. Not us. The other ones."
The unheard conversation above them stopped.
Penny gave Faraday a politely blank look. “Other ones.”
“You don’t think we’re the only beings floating around in time, do you?” Faraday said as he pushed aside a pile of notes to make room for the book on the nearest table. He flipped it open, licking a finger to flick through the pages with expert speed. Rows and rows of small text passed by, broken by the occasional picture that was no more than a pencil sketch. Penny caught glimpses of things that looked like they’d stepped out of nightmares or freak shows, and a few that might have had starring roles in fairy tales, before Faraday finally found the page he was looking for.
She bent over the book and stared. "That? What kind of danger is that?"
"A very big one. I think." He tapped the grey-cowled figure. "It's called--well, an Auditor. They try to make the world run neat and monotonous. Sort of."
"They hate people."
"So maybe Desmond's being bothered by them, since he has so many problems with time?"
She looked up and met his gaze.
Damn, said an Auditor.
“What can they do?” Penny asked, surprised to find that her voice was hushed.
“Nobody knows exactly,” Faraday replied. “Most of what is known are stories and theories. It’s been hypothesized that they can take physical form, but that’s never been proven…there’s no real evidence to show how they would manage it…” He thumbed through a few more pages. “And they don’t live—well, they don’t live at all, but, technically speaking, they don’t exist in time as humans perceive it. They’re…outside it. Its rules don’t apply to them.”
“Its rules don’t seem to apply to Des, either.”
“Exactly. So I wonder…maybe they can have a greater effect on him than on someone who is fixed in the time stream?” Faraday unearthed another notebook and did a few quick calculations. “There are always so many variables when it comes to time, but—ah. I was afraid of that.”
“Of what?” asked Penny. The Auditors drifted a little closer.
“Desmond’s mind can be in all three states of time, and the Auditors are outside time. From that vantage point, someone like Desmond…with a mind like that…there would be nowhere to hide.”
"So...they really could drive him mad."
"I think so."
Her expression faltered, and just for a moment he caught a glimpse of someone who was much more vulnerable than they were letting on. Charlotte was like that sometimes. "Then what can we do?"
"I don't know. There's nothing about how to fight them..."
"I have to get them away from him," she murmured, more or less to herself.
He looked up. "How?"
"I don't know. Maybe I can ask Ms. Hawking."
"Ms. Hawking? The History Monk?"
"You know her?"
"Everyone knows her!" Faraday exclaimed, suddenly brightening again. "The History Monks are the biggest factors in time! She--you know her?"
"She helped me find Desmond."
"Then maybe she can," he replied, scribbling something in his notebook. "Maybe she knows--tell me what she says, would you? I ought to document it..."
“I’d rather you not turn what’s happening to Desmond into some kind of scientific study, Mr. Faraday.”
“Oh, I know, I know,” Faraday nodded. “It’s just…he’s a unique case. Whatever you find out could have a serious impact on my work.” He waved his hands vaguely, indicating the entirety of the lab. “A lot of this has to do with time. It’s part of how I try to understand the universe.”
"Well--wait." Penny stared at him. "How you try to what?"
"Understand the universe." He managed to grin. "It's--a great place. I mean. Have you looked around lately? It--"
Sensing that she was about to be plunged into a largely poetic situation, Penny cut him off as politely as she could. "Please, Mr. Faraday, I have to go now. Thank you for your help. I'll be in touch."
Faraday nodded to her, and the secretary showed her out of the lab.
Once she had gone, Faraday spent some time scanning the lines and lines of text regarding the Auditors, pausing now and then to do a few small calculations. Then he went back to his machines and devices, tweaking settings here and there until he appeared to be satisfied. And all the while, three floating grey robes watched him from a corner.
This time, there was no ominous noise and no smoke when Faraday started flipping switches. Spurred on by this, he went to a table by the side of the room that housed several computers and watched the monitors with an intense gaze.
One by one, the screens filled with charts, maps, and strange, oscillating figures. Nodding, he picked up a notebook and marked down the date and information on the first computer--displaying temporal information from several days ago. Then he moved down the line. By the time he reached the third monitor, the one displaying the figures and graphs from the day before, there was a deep furrow in his brow and he didn't look so pleased anymore. He scribbled down the last of it and checked his figures again. No, there was definitely something wrong--the thud of the binary pulsar PSR 1913 + 16, the pair of dead stars that provided the Earth with its measurement of time, was beginning to slow. It was throwing off all of the temporal figures. It was even beginning to interfere with causality. Causes were no longer logically preceding effects in some places...
And Desmond, someone temporally disassociated, was being mentally attacked by Auditors in the midst of it.
"And what if he dies?" he muttered, feverishly working out an equation to gauge how long it would take the pulsar to stop completely. The prospects were not good.
Faraday looked up at his screens again.
"Time would stop," he breathed. "The universe would die."
And in the corner, the three Auditors began a new plan.
Desmond was reading Our Mutual Friend again.
He did it in secret now, locking himself in the bathroom even when Penny wasn’t home, reading a few pages here and there whenever he got the chance.
He didn’t have any particular intentions of killing himself, but with the way things were going, it really was only a matter of time before something went wrong. Nobody could live the way he had been living for long. Nobody could stand the continuous feeling of being watched, the nightmare-riddled sleep, not being able to walk the streets without thinking that someone was going to jump out from behind every dumpster and lamppost…
It was impossible. Eventually he'd have a heart attack or just give up, like he had almost done in the hatch. Desmond Hume wouldn't pull the trigger, something else from the darkest, tarry pits of his psyche would. And then it would be over.
Penny would...be all right. If it happened. She would manage.
Just like she didn't when you were stuck on the island? something murmured in the back of his mind, but it was well muffled by paranoia.
No, she would manage. Somehow. Right, yeah. She'd...she'd be okay. And he'd be more than okay. He'd be away from those--
"Desmond?" Penny called. He straightened up, stuffing the book into the cabinet under the sink, and went out.
Penny smiled briefly at him when he came into the kitchen. "Hey."
"Hey. Did you find Faraday?"
"What? Oh. Oh! Yes, w--I did."
There was a pause, in which she stared at him and he waited for an explanation.
Eventually, he prompted, "What'd he say?"
"He said...well, he has a theory. He thinks this group of weird monsters is bothering you."
"Yeah. He called them--Auditors, I think."
“Strange name for a monster,” Desmond remarked, trying futilely to be lighthearted.
“He seemed strange.” A brief frown flickered across Penny’s expression. “I don’t think anything he said can be of much help.”
“Oh.” Desmond tried not to look disappointed, but his stomach felt like it was sinking into his shoes. He had been so sure that Faraday would have some kind of answer, something that would help, even if it was just a suggestion.
"Sorry," she murmured, seeing his expression. "He really didn't have a solution, just the idea."
"Are you feeling any better?" she asked gently.
He eyed her. She sighed. "Any hallucinations?"
"See? It's not so bad, now is it? Go sit down in the living room and I'll make you some coffee."
Desmond hesitated, the words it's very bad lingering on his tongue, and gave up. He wandered into the living room and flopped down on the couch, rubbing his face. No, no hallucinations--but that feeling of being watched had been there all day, even before she left. It was even there now, but fainter; a slight prickle along the nape of his neck. He listened to Penny moving around in the kitchen for a while, trying to draw comfort from her presence.
A noise at the front door made him look up. It sounded like…a key turning in the lock? How was that possible, with both of them home? He found himself slowly rising to his feet, his mind racing as he tried to remember where the gun had been stored…
The door opened and Desmond nearly screamed when Penny came in. He managed to keep the sound from escaping his throat, but had a hard time stopping himself from gaping at her.
“Hi Des.” Penny smiled at him, but the smile disappeared when she saw his face. “What’s wrong?”
“I—weren’t you just—”
He left her standing by the door and hurried into the kitchen.
There was no one there.
That wasn’t possible.
Her hand landed on his arm. "Desmond, what's--?"
"Let go!" he snapped, half-frantic, trying to remember if the previous exchange had even happened. Had he been napping? Had it been a dream? What the hell was going on?
"Des! What's wrong?"
He looked at her, eyes wild, and saw her flinch away. "I--I thought you were--"
“Thought I was what?” Penny exclaimed. Desmond’s panic was almost contagious.
He pointed vaguely around the kitchen. “You were—you were here, you came home and you were—”
“Des, I just got home. Just now.” Penny’s voice was soothing, but there was a definite edge of concern in it.
She watched Desmond’s face as his expression passed from frantic to confused, and finally to the too-familiar mask of personal anguish. He stepped forward cautiously, as if he expected her to disappear, and touched her arm, her face, her hair. Finally, he enfolded her in an unexpected hug.
“My God, I’m sorry, Pen,” he murmured. She could feel him shaking.
She slid her arms around him after a moment. "It's--it's okay. Why are you shaking?"
"Because I--I thought you would be--someone...else."
"But it's you, so it's..."
Penny decided not to push it and held him instead. He thought he had seen her this time? Spoken to her, even? That...wasn't right. "Des, what did the me you saw say to you?"
“Oh Pen, don’t…”
“Please, Des. It could be important.”
He let out a trembling breath into her hair. “That—that you’d gone to see Faraday. And he couldn’t help.”
“Oh.” Despair could be a powerful weapon if someone knew what internal buttons to push. And if Faraday was right about these Auditors, they would know just how to shake Des down. It was a terrifying thought. She pushed herself out of the embrace slightly. “Des, I did go to see Faraday, and I think…he gave me an idea. Something I think can help you.”
Desmond stared at her, wide-eyed with surprise. “He did?”
She nodded. “I have to talk to one or two other people, but I think so, yes.”
Desmond gave a sharp, triumphant little laugh that was really more of a bark and cupped her face in his hands. "You can--we can fix it?"
"I--yes!" Beaming, she lifted her hands to touch his. "I think so!"
He hugged her again, the embrace tight with relief, and then kissed her. Penny hadn’t felt a gesture so tender from him in weeks, and it made her believe her own words.
Yes, they could fix this. Des would be all right. Things would be all right at last, and they could get on with their lives. Maybe they could even, finally, get married like Des had been talking about since getting off the island.
But neither of them were aware of the grey shapes floating just outside the bathroom window.
It didn't work, said one.
Yet, said another, the designated cunning member of the trio.
How do we know that it will?
He is weaker in mind when it comes to the girl. We need only to push.
And if the girl defeats us before we can?
We will take...steps.
Then one said, trying not to sound hesitant, How much energy is it wise to expend on Hume?
As much as it takes, replied another.
We do not tire.
And his destruction will make quick work of our greatest concerns.
The universe. Time.
Faraday said so.
Faraday, too, must be dealt with...
He will be. But first we must follow what he finds out...
And if Hume goes first, Faraday will not be a concern.
Yes, agreed one.
Indeed, said the other.
Our focus, then, must be on Hume…
Brother Campbell was in the Mandala hall, watching the sand. Ever since Ms. Hawking’s intimidating visit, a heavy, round-the-clock watch had been initiated. The monks were now documenting the Mandala’s every move. Every ripple, every twitch of every grain of sand, every shifting pattern; they took it all down.
It was puzzling, to say the least. For days, the disquieting spot of purple had been growing steadily larger, and had developed a speck of black at its center only an hour or so previously. Then, quite suddenly, the black was gone and the purple seemed to be retreating in on itself at a slow, steady rate.
And then, it stopped again. Something must be going on with this Hume fellow. Brother Campbell wondered if he ought to send a message to Ms. Hawking, or if she already knew.
He didn't know how to deal with this. None of the books prepared you for possible doom of the universe. None of the books even mentioned the possible doom of the universe. Wen the Eternally Surprised had, evidently, never been that surprised. Oh, of course there were stories, like the Clock of Bad Schüschein, and everyone sort of secretly knew them to be true, but you never expected it to happen in your lifetime.
The little circle turned gently in the sand.
What was it? A black hole? There had always been black holes, and wormholes, too. Black holes dotted the Mandala just as they dotted the universe, little unchanging points underneath the evanescent patterns. Wormholes were less common, but also existed. Neither of them were as dangerous as this thing. They didn't suck in time, they just existed as links between two times. Or universes, in the case of black holes.
The last big anomaly had been the island: an ugly, static ring occupying a wide part of the patterns. Inside it, he remembered, had been a sort of mini-Mandala, with its own shapes and twists and turns completely different from the rest. But that had been taken care of. That was over. This seemed much more dangerous. Even the island had never seemed to destroy time.
At last, he summoned Brother Needlewhite, a small, nervous young monk with a tendency to stammer when he got excited.
“Send somebody to get Ms. Hawking, would you?”
“Ms. Hawking?” Brother Needlewhite exclaimed. “B-but the Mandala…sh-shouldn’t we be telling the abbot?”
“This is beneath the abbot’s concerns,” Brother Campbell replied, hoping that Needlewhite was too nervous to notice that he was lying through his teeth. “Ms. Hawking can handle it.”
“Y-yes, Brother C-Campbell. Right away.”
Brother Needlewhite bustled off. Brother Campbell watched the bruise...yes, it was a bruise...twirl around itself. If it could talk, he fancied, it would be humming in a cheerful voice. It was evil. It was very, very evil, eating Time. Naughty. Dangerous. But somehow, it managed to
Ten minutes later Brother Campbell awoke to a ring of faces staring down at him. "Buh?"
"Is that all you can say?" demanded the face of Ms. Hawking. "They said you nearly fell into the Mandala!"
"Oh. Did I?"
"Yes! Don't you know a fall like that would have killed you?"
"No. I've never fallen before. My head hurts."
"What were you doing?"
"Looking at that...mark," he replied, pushing himself up. The monks, sans Ms. Hawking, backed up a little.
Ms. Hawking gave the sand a cursory glance. “It’s smaller.”
“Only slightly, Ms. Hawking,” Brother Campbell replied.
“Then something’s changed. Has anyone checked the chessboard?”
“Er—” Brother Campbell’s expression clearly said that no one had.
“Send someone to check it,” Ms. Hawking ordered.
“Right!” Brother Campbell scanned the crowd of monks. “You! Yes, you at the back! Take Brother Cromwell and go see what’s going on.”
As the two lesser monks scurried from the room, Ms. Hawking leaned over the rope railing to give the Mandala a more critical look. Brother Campbell felt dizzy just watching her.
“When did it start getting smaller?” she asked.
“About forty-five minutes ago, maybe an hour.”
“But it’s not now.”
Beneath them, the sands swirled and flowed, making a gentle noise akin to the sound of waves in the silence.
Ms. Hawking straightened up. “That’s better than nothing, but it’s still not enough. Desmond’s psyche can’t be left looking like—like that. Think of the work that would have to be done to balance it.”
"Ms. Hawking, I don't know what could--"
But Ms. Hawking, with the innate assumption that he would listen if she opened her mouth, overrode him. "It could take years to put it back in order! We'd have to patch up the holes in his head and stop Time leaking away..."
She sighed. "Time is leaking out through whatever gap exists in his sanity. The explosion of the Swan dislodged him from Time, and now...I think his mind is acting as a plug that keeps Time in check."
"What? Why would the explosion do that? He's--"
"He can move through time without even thinking about it. He doesn't even try. He is highly volatile. Not quite monk material, but certainly not normal..." She shook her head. "We need to keep him from getting worse."
"Should we tell the abbot?" He quailed at her expression. "Well, they--maybe they know something about Time! Maybe Lobsang is ill or something!"
“Do you ever think before you open your mouth?” Ms. Hawking demanded. “Desmond Hume is the center of all of this. That’s the only part of this that’s simple! Hard as you may find it to believe that the course of history, the fate of Time itself, can revolve around one man, you’d better start believing it. The proof is in the Mandala.”
Before Brother Campbell could respond, the tentative voice of Brother Crowmwell came from the doorway.
“Er, Ms. Hawking?”
“Yes, what is it?” the old woman snapped impatiently, turning around.
“I think you’d better come see the chessboard.”
Ms. Hawking could see the change even before stepping up onto the cosmic model. Several pieces had gained prominence, most notably the one which represented the physicist Daniel Faraday. There were also changes in the patterns of the floating grey robes that represented the Auditors. Their movements seemed to have a more collective purpose, as if an important decision had been reached and they were all acting on it. Ms. Hawking followed the purposeful spiral of grey with her eyes and frowned deeply when she saw where it was headed.
It was very rare for there to be two identical pieces on the chessboard. The only times it was normal were in the cases of twins and particularly complex situations involving time travel. But what the Auditors were now centered on didn’t fit either criteria.
Very near Desmond on the board was Penny, which was not unusual; what was unusual was the second Penny, positioned a short distance away, watching the pair with a chilling, critical eye. This Penny seemed somehow real and insubstantial at the same time. Her piece on the board flickered around the edges as if even the universe was unsure as to whether she really existed or not.
"Er...Miss Widmore wouldn't happen to have a twin, would she?" said Brother Campbell.
"No," Ms. Hawking murmured. "No, she doesn't."
"It must be the Auditors. They're getting better."
"But--they've never shown up on the board as other people before! How could it be them?"
"I don't know. You see the way they're positioned?" She pointed to the curved mass of grey shapes. "They weren't all focused on him before. Something's different."
"You don't think they know--?" gasped the monk. She pursed her lips.
"I don't know how they could have--unless Faraday found out...is that why he's suddenly so big?" she muttered, more or less at the board. It didn't respond. "He knows, and they found out through him? It does figure that they'd keep tabs on him..."
"Ms. Hawking, I think we should tell the abbot!" Brother Campbell exclaimed.
"Not yet. And look at Widmore--herding them along...Brother Campbell, I would like you to hire someone for me."
"Wh--" He stopped. "Oh, Ms. Hawking, no, not him again! He's bloody creepy!"
"He's a bastard!"
"He's effective. And he may be able to stop Widmore."
"Okay, okay. But I still say--"
"The abbot doesn't need to know yet."
Charles Widmore looked away from the window to find his secretary standing in the doorway of his office, looking worried. He raised his eyebrows.
“There’s a man here to see you. He doesn’t have an appointment, but he’s won’t take no for an answer.”
“It’s not Hume again, is it?”
The secretary shook her head. “He says his name is Benjamin Linus.”
To his credit, Widmore’s expression didn’t flicker. “Show him in.”
Ben was ushered into the room, expression mild and serene. "Widmore."
The secretary shut the door.
"What brings you here?"
"I was sent here."
"I'm not exactly allowed to say."
Widmore moved to the shelves, which had been repaired since Desmond’s inebriated tirade.
“Can I offer you a drink?” he inquired, getting down a bottle of whiskey.
“Go right ahead,” Ben replied, voice and face still calm and blank.
Widmore poured himself a measure of alcohol and smirked. “But you won’t accept?”
“You’re very sharp today, Mr. Widmore.”
“Don’t get smart with me, Linus.” Charles stowed the bottle and watched Ben over the top of his glass. “Let’s get down to business. Why were you sent here?”
Ben looked around the room as if his answer were of no particular importance. “Someone would like me to have a word with you about the interference you’ve been causing.”
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me there.”
“I know quite a lot about you and Mr. Abaddon, Mr. Widmore.”
“It’s no secret that Abaddon and I have a…business relationship.”
The pause didn’t go unnoticed. One corner of Ben’s mouth lifted in a mirthless smile.
“And, as such, I’m sure it’s very complex,” he said.
"Quite complex. You're sure you won't have a drink?"
"I never said I wouldn't have a drink."
Charles sighed. "Linus, I really don't have the time for this today."
"Planning more mayhem?"
He didn't blink. "What are you talking about?"
"You're torturing Hume more effectively than I ever could. It's actually kind of inspiring."
Widmore knew better than to try to deny anything in the face of Ben’s level, self-assured stare, but passing the buck was a practical alternative. As an added bonus, the task was in Abaddon’s hands, so it didn’t technically count as lying.
“You’re praising the wrong person for that bit of handiwork,” he said, sipping his whiskey.
“Oh, don’t be so modest,” Ben countered. “This is exactly the sort of thing you take pride in. It’s the sort of thing I would take pride in, were it not for the potentially disastrous consequences.”
“I’ve never known you to be a protector of human life, Linus.”
“Me? No.” Ben’s smile was disquieting. “But regardless, it’s time for your little game to come to an end.”
"My little game?"
"Yours. My employers know."
"You've been employed this time? I thought you always worked alone."
"They'd like you to keep away from Hume," he went on. "Apparently he's important."
Widmore made a small, derisive noise in the back of his throat. “Hume is the last person in this world that I’d expect to be described as ‘important’.”
“Which is exactly why you shouldn’t dismiss him.” Ben seemed almost to be enjoying himself now.
"What do you know about it, Linus?"
"Take my advice, Widmore, and leave Hume be."
“Why do you, of all people, care about Hume?”
Ben shrugged. “I don’t.”
“But these employers of yours do.”
“I can assure you that they care about far more than Desmond Hume.”
Widmore drained his whiskey glass and set it down on the desk with a definite thunk. “It appears to me, Linus, that you’re the one playing games here, and I’m not in the mood to play along. What I do and whom I do it to is none of your business.”
"It's everyone's business," murmured Ben, still with an insolent little smirk. "Keep it up and you'll find out why."
“That’s a weak sort of threat, Linus, even for you.”
The smirk vanished from Ben’s face. “Mr. Widmore, I rarely find it necessary to resort to threats. The truth is often far more frightening than anything man can dream up.”
“This meeting is over, Linus,” Widmore snapped, waving a hand toward the door. “You just slither out into that hallway and disappear. You’re good at that.”
"Don't say I didn't warn you," Ben replied coldly. "When it flies back in your face, it won't be my problem."
"Because you take responsibility for nothing!"
"I'll happily take responsibility for everything I need to. This isn't something I need to."
“Nothing ever is.”
Ben half-turned, his hand on the doorknob, and gave Widmore a chilling look.
“Why is it that people like you always project?” he said, as if he were merely wondering aloud. “I deliver a reasonable message designed to help you, and yet you can’t keep yourself from being suspicious.”
"I have every right to be suspicious when it comes to you."
"Why, because I'm the only person that's ever outsmarted you?"
"Get out of my office, Linus."
"I'm the only one you couldn't figure out or beat up?"
"Or pay off, maybe? You've got no weapons to use against me and that drives you crazy, doesn't it."
"I'm calling security."
“No need.” Ben opened the door and stepped through. “But I advise you to listen to what I’ve said.”
The door shut behind him. Charles waited until he was quite sure that the stupid man was out of earshot, looked at the whiskey bottle, and threw it idly against the wall.
He leaned forward and picked up his phone. "Yes, sir?" his secretary chirped in his ear.
"Send someone up here to clean up a mess for me."
"Right away, sir."
(Crossposted to discworld, lost_fanfic, desmond_fans, des_pen, desmond_penny, infinitenesmith, and hauntermooneyes)