This story is a bit of an experiment because I feel like my grasp on the feel of the show is still a little...let's go with *new*. I didn't like the pilot AT ALL, but I'm really getting into the show right now. I'm basically enthralled with Ben and the prejudice that seems to be rising against children who were harnessed. Amazing how quickly people find something to be biased against.

This is unedited as of yet.

Rating: T for swearing and future violence.

Summary: Ben's dealing with having the spines in his back, which may have worse consequences than just the social stigmatization that they bring him.


The best word he could think if it was "shitty." Something more appropriate might have been "like going to fucking hell." Waiting for the group to get back from any sort of recon always felt a lot like sucking down liquid lead. The knot in Ben's stomach refused to dissipate until he saw his father and Hal had safely returned. But it wasn't ever like they had any choice – shelter, food and water, and meds were all things they needed.

Normally, at his age, Ben would have been able to take part in the recon missions There were other kids who did just that. However, he hadn't needed it explained to him when no one had asked him to come along. He saw how a lot of people looked at him, heard the not-so-quiet whispers about him. He knew the name people had for kids like him – razorbacks.

Ben's hand wandered to the back of his beck, the soft pads of his fingers running over the body-warmed ridges of the metal protruding from his spine. Some days he was okay with it – didn't think much about it. Others, he couldn't get his mind on anything else. His shirts were pulled and sometimes ripped by the spines; they would catch the sheets when he accidentally turned onto his back at night.

Sometimes, he would pour over the very few books on surgery they had managed to find, hoping that he'd see something, anything that could help get the things out of his body. But if Anne couldn't find a way, he knew there was nothing he could do. But hope, as it were, was hard to kill. He'd asked Anne once if they could file them down even if they couldn't pull them out. She had shaken her head gently and explained to him that they were attached to his nerves and that going much lower could cause permanent damage. And thinking about it, that made sense. When he touched them, sometimes he thought there was some kind of sensation in them, like his nerves really were hooked up to them, feeling through them. He hated it.

Things had gotten better after he had successfully gone for help when the kids' sanctuary hadn't turned out to be all it was promised. He got fewer glares, fewer threats, and some people were even okay if he accidentally bumped against them. But overall, things hadn't changed that much.

Which was why he was sitting outside in the dark, waiting without a weapon (no one would give him that, either) to see any sign of his family. Ben had finally convinced Matt to allow himself to be tucked away in bed, but for Ben sleep was a near impossibility when a team was out.

He let his fingers drop away from the metal spines and picked at the grass near his feet. Something he had never told his family was that sometimes he remembered things. Sometimes he had dreams that he wasn't sure were memories. At times, things felt too real, too now to be something that happened before. He wondered if it had something to do with the spines. But he'd never brought it up; seeing that look on his father and brother's faces that he got so often from others – the look of fear, mistrust, disgust, even hate – wasn't something he thought he could deal with.

Ben had seen how the other…the other razorbacks were treated when they said something strange, or got confused for a second and thought they were still one of the Skitters. If Ben started blurting shit about dreams and memories, it wouldn't be long before…well, before people realized they really didn't want him there anymore. That…that maybe Hal had made a mistake rescuing him at all. Better to let him be dead, maybe. He knew Hal and his dad would kick his ass if he mentioned that. He knew that; but some part of him wondered.

A sudden sound in the distance broke him out of his thoughts, snapping his head up and before he knew it, he was on his feet and moving forward. Whatever had been done to him when he was with the Skitters, his physical abilities were now a hell of a lot more… existent than before. He was amazingly faster, stronger, and his stamina packed a hell of a punch. Most times he toned it down, especially after seeing the wary look on Hal's face when he'd done over a hundred pushups without missing a beat. The truth was that he could have done more. A lot more.

Crouching behind a patch of brush, Ben waited a few moments before peeking from behind his cover. When he caught sight of the familiar gaits of his brother and dad, the tension leeched out of him. Slowly, he stood up, not wanting to alarm anyone. "Hey," he called softly.

The group only hesitated a second before recognizing him.

"Ben? Everything okay?" Hal's voice asked from a distance.

"Yeah, everything's fine. I just, ah, couldn't sleep."

By then, Hal had caught up to Ben. He reached a hand out, caught his jacket and pulled him along as the group continued to walk toward the school. He answered Ben's unspoken question. "Everyone's fine. We got the meds."

"No problems?"

Hal grinned at him, teeth flashing white in the dim light. "Nothing we couldn't handle."

Despite the flicker of worry that went through him, Ben couldn't help but grin back in the face of his brother's confidence. He knew someday it might be misplaced, but for now they were all okay.

After a short debriefing by the team, everyone headed off to their respective rooms. Ben followed Hal back, both of them mindful of the sleeping Matt. The light in the room was still on; Matt said he couldn't sleep without it if there was no one else in the room, and Ben hadn't had the heart to turn it off when he left, should Matt wake up in his absence.

"How was everything here?" Hal asked, shucking his cargos and opting for a pair of beat up sweats.

Ben shrugged. "Not bad. Pope made some sort of awful soup concoction for dinner." He heard Hal chuckle. "Yeah, it's funny when you're not the one eating it." Ben smiled anyway as he pulled off his shirt and ambled toward his cot.

"What the hell is that?"

The sharp tone of Hal's voice had adrenaline shooting through Ben's system, he whipped his head around, trying to see what Hal was looking at, and then realizing it was him Hal was studying. He tried to see what his brother was looking at, brushing his hands along his shoulders like he might find something there. "Huh? What's what?"

"That. On your back."

For a moment, Ben flushed with shame, thinking Hal meant the spikes running down his spine. His hand went to them, nails clicking along the metal.

"Not those, stupid. That." Hal reached out, fingers probing along the small of Ben's back. Ben winced at the sharp pain.

"Oh. Right. It's a bruise." He backed away from his brother, dodging Hal's attempt to turn him around.

"No shit. Here, let me see."

"No. It's fine."

"How'd it happen?"

Ben lifted a shoulder in what he hoped was a nonchalant gesture. "Just ran into something."

From his expression, Ben knew his brother didn't buy the implication that it was an accident.

"Yeah? And?"

"And nothing. Jesus, Hal. Just let it go. It doesn't matter."

"It does matter." Hal moved closer, and Ben fought the urge to back away, knowing it would only spur Hal on. "Seriously, what the fuck happened? That's one mother of bruise."

Letting out a breath, Ben tried to think of a way to get Hal to let up. When he met his brother's steely gaze, he knew that wasn't going to happen. "It's just…it's not a big deal, okay? So just don't… It was Chuck and his friends. I went too close to their rooms on my way to see Anne for my checkup. It was stupid of me – I know how they…I know better."

Hal's voice was fierce. "And they what? Just shoved you?"

They had grabbed him and thrown him into the wall. The spines in Ben's back had caught at an awkward angle and wrenched at his spine. It had hurt like hell for a few hours. Still didn't feel great, but it was no longer a stabbing pain. "Yeah, they pushed me around a little."

"Son of a bitch," Hal growled, "Turn around."

"Hal—"

"Turn the fuck around, Ben." Despite the harsh words, Hal's voice had softened a little.

Ben complied, slowly shifting to show Hal his back. From the low curses that he heard, it couldn't have looked very pretty.

"You're going to see Anne to get this checked out."

Groaning, Ben shook his head. "No. Come on, it's not even that bad."

"You're not seeing what I'm seeing. Besides, it's a bruise on your spine and we don't know what kind of damage the spikes might do. Please."

After a moment's hesitation, Ben nodded. He couldn't remember the last time his brother had said 'please' to him. How the hell was he supposed to stand up to that? It was a low blow, but it worked.

"Thanks." Hal stepped back, and Ben quickly headed toward his bed, eager to get off the topic at hand. "You, uh, think you can sleep okay? I can run and get you some pain meds."

Ben tossed a disbelieving frown at his brother. "Meds? You're shitting me, right? Because this isn't even close to being worth wasting any painkillers."

"Whatever, man. Just let me know if it starts to hurt too bad or gets weird or something, okay?" When Ben just turned over in his cot and didn't answer, Hal pressed, "Okay?"

"Yeah, okay, I will. Christ, when did you get to be such a mother hen?"

"Shut up." The order was said fondly. It was followed by a pregnant pause so long that Ben looked up from the thread in his sheets he had been picking at.

Hal was standing still, shoulders tense, eyes looking more hollow than Ben had ever seen them. It scared the shit out of him. His brother opened his mouth, closed it, and tried again. "You know, after they took you, I couldn't stop thinking about the last thing I said to you. I, uh, don't remember what it was, but it was in that fight we had. You left because of me, and because of that fucking fight you—"

"Hal, no. It wasn't your fault," Ben interrupted firmly.

"Yeah, no, I know. It's just…" Hal shook his head, looked down and pressed the edge of his palm against his forehead. "I couldn't help thinking, 'what if that's the last thing I ever did was fight with him?' and I almost lost my fucking mind thinking it."

Ben was silent for a few moments, watching as Hal met his eyes only to look quickly away, as though he had anything to be ashamed about. "I'm sorry."

Huffing a dry laugh, Hal pinched the bridge of his nose. "Don't be. I should have been looking out for you, not—"

"Not what? Acted like my brother? Brothers fight sometimes, or most times. That's what you were supposed to do, Hal. Not take care of me. That wasn't your job, you know? Not like that."

"That's not true. Mom said—"

"Mom would never blame you for anything that happened, and if you don't believe that you're a moron." Ben made sure to keep his gaze steady, his voice sure, as he held his brother's gaze.

Finally, Hal broke the stare and nodded slowly. Silently, he flipped off the lights. Ben laid still and listened as his brother crossed the room and got into his cot, the springs creaking softly. "Hey, Hal?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm glad you guys are alright."

"You and me both."

A moment of quiet passed before Ben spoke again, softly enough this time that he didn't think his brother could hear. "Wish I could've gone with you."

Silence was the only reply.

x.x.x.x.x

The next morning, before he'd been able to wake up on his own – which was saying something, because generally Ben got up an hour or so before sunrise; the reduced need for sleep was another lovely gift from the Skitters – Hal had already shaken him awake, shoved some clothes at him and told him to get dressed because they were going to see Anne. Ben had grumbled and protested, but Hal hadn't budged.

And so they made their way down the halls all sparsely occupied by people ("You know, sane people don't get up this early, Hal!") toward the makeshift medical wing. Unsurprisingly, Anne was up and working on some sort of something in tall beakers. When she saw them walk in, she greeted them with a smile.

"Hey. You boys are up early. Everything all right?"

Before Ben could answer, Hal cut in, "Ben has a bruise on his spine. Could you take a look? Make sure there's nothing going on?"

Anne frowned. "On his spine?" She put down whatever she was working on and moved over toward Ben, patting the exam stool in an indication that he take a seat. "Take your shirt off for me."

Ben did as she asked and settled onto the stool before tugging of his t-shirt. He held still so she could get a look at him. He winced when he heard her hum a disapproving sound.

"How did this happen, Ben?"

Shooting a sharp glare at his brother, he answered quickly, "I caught it weird when I was trying to break a fall. Stupid things get in the way sometimes."

Soft hands moved over his back. "The bruise looks pretty deep. Does it still hurt?"

"Only when I move wrong or bump against something."

After a few more seconds, Anne moved back and indicated that Ben could put his shirt back on. "It looks like it's just a bad bruise. I'll keep an eye on it just in case. Tell me right away if it feels different."

Ben looked up at her, worry flickering through him. "Like, what kind of different?"

"Just if it feels more tender, or if you feel any swelling. We want to be sure you didn't damage anything. So if anything bothers you, come see me."

"He will," Hal replied.

Ben allowed himself a slight eye roll before nodding in agreement with his brother. He thanked Anne as they left the medical wing. He could tell from the look on her face that she was concerned about the spikes. Most of the other kids had lost theirs already, or they had at least receded somewhat – the only two whose spines showed no improvement were Rick and Ben. Judging by Rick's state of mind, Ben could be in a fuck load of trouble if something went wrong.

"Hey. Uh, those spikes don't hurt, do they? Like, it's just the bruise?" The tentative question was asked as they made their way back to their room.

Giving his brother a curious look, Ben shook his head. "Not really. I mean, they caused the bruise, but they don't really hurt too much by themselves."

Hal nodded slowly, eyes lingering on something Ben couldn't see. "You'd let me know, right? If something started happening?"

Though he didn't know exactly what Hal meant, Ben nodded. "Yeah. I would." And it wasn't a lie. It wasn't like he knew his dreams were connected to his spikes. Not for sure.

A concerned look flashed across Hal's face. "Maybe we should go see Anne again, get her to check the spikes. I mean, they're in your spine. What if—"

"Hal, no. If she'd been worried about something, she would have checked." Ben knew he had his brother there. They trusted Anne more than anyone outside their family. Ben bumped his shoulder against his brother's. "Besides, what's the worst that could happen? My brain turns to Jell-O and all I can do is speak Skitter?" He smiled, tried to get Hal to smile.

Hal scowled at him, clearly unamused. "It's not a fucking joke. You…Christ, you almost didn't wake up." He cleared his throat and looked straight ahead.

Immediately, Ben sobered. "I know. I'm sorry. You're right, it's not a joke, but if I can't laugh at it a little, I'll go fucking crazy."

Without an answer, Hal just shot him a look that Ben couldn't read.

x.x.x.x.x

"Nice day, huh?" There was a hint of a smile in Ben's tone, but not on his lips. He shifted against the bench, trying to find some way to lean against it that would make having metal protruding from his back somehow more comfortable. It was one of those days when it was hard to get them off his mind.

Next to him, Rick barely acknowledged that Ben was there. And if he barely talked to Ben, he said not a word to anyone who wasn't…like them.

"They found some almond granola bars. I could go grab us some, if you want one," Ben offered.

"No."

He knew Rick ate only when he couldn't avoid it – he hated food. And he was almost equally unimpressed with the rest of the people in their group. Sometimes it scared the hell out of Ben when Rick talked about the both of them like they were still part of the Skitters.

"You sure? They're the salty and sweet ones. They were my favorites before the attack. You get the crunch and saltiness from the nuts and granola, and then this smooth sweetness from the white chocolate on the bottom. It fucking rocks."

"I don't want their food. I want…to go home."

Ben frowned. "This is our home, Rick. This is where your dad is buried, this is where your friends are."

Unconvinced brown eyes looked back at Ben. "That doesn't matter. That isn't the way I am anymore. It isn't the way you are, either."

As it was with every time Rick insinuated that Ben wasn't even human anymore, Ben felt dread and sick fear pool fast and heavy in his stomach. He tried to shake it off, tried to tell himself that it was just because Rick's head was still screwed up from the harness. In truth, Ben didn't think there was anything much left of Rick's mind that was still Rick. But somehow he couldn't bring himself to tell anyone, even Anne. He and Rick were already so separated from everyone else because of the others' fear… He didn't know what they would do to Rick, and he was terrified of what they might to do him.

He exhaled sharply, leaned back at an angle on the bench, and tipped his head back. Letting his attention be consumed by nothing but the blue, sunny sky above him, Ben pretended he had never been abducted, never been harnessed, never put his family in danger then or now.

Funny thing was, he had never been much good at playing pretend.


For now, this is complete. I might add to it later if I get struck by enough of an idea.

Thanks to the people who read and reviewed! I didn't think I'd get any reviews in this quiet section. :)

Note: If I do continue, I can tone down the swearing to something way more PG-13. If you feel so inclined, let me know if this is something you would or would not like.

Thanks for reading!

-Holly